Children are increasingly being targeted on the web by sex offenders – with nearly 70 crimes taking place online in Cambridgeshire alone last year, NSPCC figures have revealed.
Last year a record 68 offences were recorded by Cambridgeshire police - up from 48 the previous year.
A total of 40 out of 44 forces across the UK provided the NSPCC with data on cyber-related sex crimes against under 18s including online grooming, sexual communication with a child, and rape. Nationally there are 22 offences recorded every day.
The charity now calls on the next Prime Minister to stand firm against industry lobbying by prioritising online safety and bringing in laws that deliver a change in protection against abuse.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said: “Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.
“Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it’s now time for the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.
“He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content.”
Police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland recorded 8,224 child sexual offences with an online element in 2018/19.
For offences where the age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim but there were 185 offences committed against children aged ten and under; including babies yet to reach their first birthday.
The number of crimes nationally has doubled in the last four years since police began recording whether an offence had an internet element with a cyberflag, up from 4,042 in 2015/16.
The NSPCC fears that the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to potential under-recording of the role of online in these crimes and wide logging variation across forces. It also comes on top of other online harms against children recorded by police such as indecent image offences.
The worrying figures have been revealed ahead of the NSPCC’s flagship annual conference How Safe Are Our Children? which begins today in London.
It comes just days before the Government closes its consultation on its Online Harms White Paper, which proposes to introduce an independent regulator to enforce a legal duty of care on tech companies to keep users safe on their platforms.
The NSPCC has led the charge on this for the past two years with its Wild West Web campaign.