Cambridgeshire police recorded 66 offences of Sexual Communication with a Child during the first year of a new anti-grooming law, with 27 crimes recorded as involving Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram.
The new crime came into force on April 3, 2017 following an NSPCC campaign, and in the first year a total of 3,171 crimes were recorded by police in England and Wales – amounting to nine grooming offences per day.
Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were the top three most-recorded sites out of 80 different methods used in grooming offences.
The majority of victims of the offence recorded by Cambridgeshire police were aged between 12 and 15.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These numbers are far higher than we had predicted, and every single sexual message from an adult to a child can have a huge impact for years to come.
“Social networks have been self-regulated for a decade and it’s absolutely clear that children have been harmed as a result.
“I urge Digital Secretary Matt Hancock to follow through on his promise and introduce safety rules backed up in law and enforced by an independent regulator with fining powers.
“Social networks must be forced to design extra protections for children into their platforms, including algorithms to detect grooming to prevent abuse from escalating.”
The charity is now campaigning to ensure the new law is sufficiently robust to prevent grooming and to truly keep children safe. It is calling on the Government to:
. Create mandatory safety rules that social networks are legally required to follow
. Establish an independent regulator to enforce safety laws and fine non-compliant sites
. Require social media sites to publish annual safety reports
. Force platforms to develop technology to detect grooming using algorithms.
The charity’s annual flagship conference How Safe Are Our Children? begins on Wednesday at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, in Westminster, London, and has the theme Growing Up Online.