Child grooming offences against children in Cambridgeshire have increased by more than 400 per cent in the past 12 months, it has been revealed.
In 2015/16 there were six child grooming offences in the county - compared to 26 in 2016/17.
In the East of England, 217 grooming offences were recorded in the year to June this year, up from 186 in 2015-16.
From April this year a new offence making it illegal to send a sexual message to a child came into force after a two-year delay, following the NSPCC’s Flaw in the Law campaign. The recorded grooming offences also include the crime of Meeting After Grooming, which former England Footballer Adam Johnson was convicted of after meeting a 15-year-old fan, with whom he had exchanged sexual messages on WhatsApp.
A Cambridgeshire police spokesman said there were a number of reasons for the rise - including an increase in offenders using social media to develop relations with children, more youngsters having access to smartphones and tablets, as well as an increase in resources at Cambridgeshire police to deal with the issue. There has also been an improvement in understanding how to spot signs of grooming, and confidence in reporting crimes has also increased.
The spokesman said: “Protecting children from harm, keeping them safe and investigating child abuse crimes in all forms is a priority for Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
“Whether you are a victim, a friend or an adult, it is everyone’s responsibility to stop any form of abuse and speak out by telling someone; a friend, parent, teacher, a trusted adult or the police.”
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “This is an enormous rise in recorded grooming offences over such a short period, and the fact that records of grooming offences have increased substantially more than most other crimes shows the need for urgent action.
“More young people are speaking up about sexual grooming, and it’s vital that now more than ever police are given the training and the resources to tackle this issue. Groomers need to be stopped before they go to meet their victim, and following the NSPCC’s Flaw in the Law campaign police now have the tools they need to intervene before abuse escalates.
“We all have a part to play in keeping children safe online. The NSPCC’s Net Aware website has useful tools for parents about popular new websites, how to set up privacy controls and how to talk to children about online safety.”
To report child abuse call 101, or in an emergency call 999.
Young people affected by grooming can contact Childline on 0800 11 11.