County schoolchildren as young as 12 are being targeted online by sick predators who use social media sites including Facebook and Twitter to find their victims, a Post investigation can reveal.
A Freedom of Information disclosure has shown that in the past three financial years, Lancashire Police recorded 521 reports of child sexual offences involving a total of eight social media websites – and this is not including reports about children targeted via dating apps.
Responses from social media firms...
Almost half of the cases – 248 – were recorded in the past year alone, highlighting a proliferation in offenders using social media to target youngsters compared with the previous two years.
An NSPCC spokesman said: “Online safety is a major 21st century child protection challenge.
“With more children accessing social media than ever before we are seeing an increase in incidents where offenders use apps and the web as the gateway for their crimes.”
With more children accessing social media than ever before we are seeing an increase in incidents where offenders use apps and the web as the gateway for their crimes.
Over a three year period almost two fifths (171) of cases were closed.
Just a 10th - 51 - led to a charge or summons, and 21 other offenders were cautioned.
Police said 101 reports are currently subject to an active investigation.
But 106 other cases had “evidential difficulties”, and a further 40 cases were deemed not in the public interest to pursue.
Three more prosecutions were prevented because the offender was too ill and another because the offender was below the criminal age of responsibility.
The remainder were given other disposals such as a community resolution.
The majority of the offences - 434 - involved allegations of sexual activity with a child.
But 35 involved grooming allegations, four involved an abuse of a position of trust and 26 concerned a rape allegation.
Across the three years Facebook was named in the crime description of 261 cases, while 123 highlighted Snapchat, 51 were linked to Instagram, 47 named ooVoo, 39 involved Skype, 16 cited Whatsapp, four mentioned Muscial.ly, and three involved Twitter.
Today, a spokesman for the National Crime Agency which operates the Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) centre said: “There are many ways in which people engage with each other online.
“We know that those with a sexual interest in children will seek to exploit tools such as social media for their own ends. Information and guidance for children and young people on how to stay safe online and when using social media platforms, as well as information for parents and teachers, is available on our dedicated website www.thinkuknow.co.uk.”