Child victims of online sex crimes are ‘very high’

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 July 2016

Children on the computer

Children on the computer

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The internet played a role in dozens of sexual offences against children in the South West policing area – including an incident involving a child as young as five, new figures have revealed.

The data, obtained by the NSPCC, is the result of a newly-introduced ‘cyber flag’ system.

This Government initiative – which was introduced last year – requires police to record a cyber flag for any sexual crime against a child which involved the internet.

The findings showed Avon and Somerset police flagged 68 such offences – a number the NSPCC describes as ‘very high’.

Officers flagged up a range of different offences, including five incidents where a girl under the age of 13 had been raped.

Other crimes included nine incidents of a male suspect causing or inciting a female under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity, and five cases of the same offence involving boys under the age of 13.

Sharon Copsey, regional head of service for the NSPCC in the South West, told the Mercury: “These figures are surprising – particularly in the Avon and Somerset area, because they are so high.

“However, this could be that more crimes are reported in Avon and Somerset than in other areas. It also could mean Avon and Somerset is better at recording incidents than other forces.

“I think the most shocking thing is that these offences include a child who is just five years old.

“The internet is part of all children’s lives now and they are getting younger when they use it with no parental supervision.

“Young children are very vulnerable anyway but we also need to think about other children who are even more vulnerable – like disabled children.”

Avon and Somerset Superintendent Will White said police are working with other agencies to share this information, which means crimes are being reported earlier.

He said: “There are a number of reasons to explain the rise in the number of offences, including increased awareness of this type of crime and an increase in confidence among victims in the criminal justice system.

“The way these types of crimes are recorded has also dramatically improved meaning we are unearthing a more accurate picture. If we want to stamp out abuse we first need to understand its scale and prevalence, this is a journey and that is not something that can be explained by solely analysing simple performance statistics.”

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