The internet was used to commit dozens of child sexual offences in Cambridgeshire in the last 12 months according to the NSPCC, as it called on the next government to make online safety a top priority.
Cambridgeshire police reported 53 cyber-related sex crimes against under-18s. The youngest victim recorded by police was just five years old.
In England and Wales over 5,600 child sex crimes committed against children had an online element that included rape, grooming, and sexual assault.
This number has risen by more than a third (44 per cent) from 2015/16 when 39 forces across England and Wales who responded to the same Freedom of Information request by the NSPCC recorded 3,903 cyber-related sexual offences.
This is the second year police have been required to record - ‘cyber flag’ - any crime that involved the internet. The latest figures show police are recording an average of 15 internet-related sex crimes against children a day, highlighting a worrying trend in how predators are using the internet to target children.
For offences where age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim (257) but there were nearly 100 offences committed against children aged 10 and under, with the youngest victim aged just three-years-old.
The troubling figures are revealed today (Thursday, June 1) as the NSPCC calls on the next government to make child online safety a top priority. It is demanding:
· An independent regulator to hold social media companies to account and fine them where they fail to protect children
· The Government to draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet to safeguard children
· Children be automatically offered safer social media accounts, with default privacy settings, to protect them from harmful content and offenders who seek to prey on them.
The NSPCC is also urging police forces to ensure all officers understand how people use the web to prey on children, how to investigate such crimes and effectively safeguard victims.
Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said: “These figures confirm our fears that offenders are exploiting the internet to target children for their own dark deeds.
“Children also tell our Childline service that they are being targeted online by some adults who pose as children and try to meet them, or persuade them to perform sexual acts on webcams, before blackmailing them. This terrifies them and can leave some feeling worthless, depressed, and suicidal.
“We cannot idly sit by knowing that more and more innocent young people are being harmed online. Today’s worrying data leaves the next government with no choice but to urgently address this issue.
“We are calling on them to force internet companies and social media sites to adhere to rules that keep their young users safe.”