More than 5,000 online grooming offences have been recorded by police in England and Wales in just 18 months, data obtained by the NSPCC has revealed.
Cambridgeshire police recorded 99 of these offences during that period.
Nationally, the recorded use of Instagram has risen dramatically over the 18 months. From April 2017 to September 2017, where the communication method was recorded, Instagram was used by groomers in 126 instances, whereas between April 2018 and September 2018 it was recorded 428 times – more than a 200 per cent increase.
The data obtained from 39 of the 43 forces in England and Wales, under Freedom of Information laws, also shows that in the latest six month period, girls aged 12 to 15 were most likely to be targeted by groomers and victims included children as young as five years old.
Ahead of the imminent publication of the Government’s Online Harms White Paper, the NSPCC is urging ministers to tame the Wild West Web by bringing in statutory regulation to enforce a legal duty of care to children on social networks, backed by hefty fines if they fail.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks.
“We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act. It is hugely concerning to see the sharp spike in grooming offences on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people.
“After 10 years of failed self-regulation by social networks it is crucial that the Government’s imminent Online Harms White Paper includes new laws that tackle online grooming once and for all.”
Police revealed which methods groomers used in 1,317 instances between April and September 2018, and records show Instagram was used 32 per cent of the time, Facebook 23 per cent and Snapchat 14 per cent.