ALMOST 300 online sex grooming crimes were committed against children in the Yorkshire and Humber region during the first year of a new law being in operation.
The incidents, which took place across up to 80 internet platforms including social media, were among 3,171 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded across the country since last April.
Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were the top three most-recorded sites for grooming to take place, being used in 70 per cent of 2,097 cases where police revealed the methods. Some of the victims were as young as eight, the NSPCC found.
As part of its #WildWestWeb campaign, the children’s charity asked 44 UK police forces for details of how many reports of the new offence - which was introduced last April under the Sexual Offences Act - they had received.
The campaign is calling on Government to force social networks to have mandatory safety rules, set up a new regulator for e-safety, require annual safety reports from social media sites and demand technology is developed to detect grooming.
Details revealed to the NSPCC showed Facebook was used in 30 per cent of cases, while Snapchat and Instagram were each used around a fifth of the time.
Girls aged 12 to 15 were most commonly targeted - three-fifths of the total.
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.
“These networks must be forced to design extra protections for children into their platforms, including algorithms to detect grooming to prevent abuse from escalating.”
Det Chief Insp Joanne Bates said: “The introduction of anti-grooming legislation last year now makes online grooming a criminal offence and enables us to work with our partners to better protect children and identify and prosecute offenders.
“In all reports of online grooming, teams of specialist investigators will work to identify the details of each individual case to ensure appropriate action is taken and safeguarding measures are in place.”
A spokesman for Facebook said: “We have zero tolerance for child exploitation on Facebook.
“This illegal behaviour is rare on Facebook but it is immediately removed and reported to relevant law enforcement agencies when it is detected.
“We work with safety experts around the world, including our Safety Advisory Board and partners like CEOP, to continually improve our operations and bring offenders to justice.”
Anyone concerned about possible online grooming can call South Yorkshire Police on 101, and call or text the national helpline Say Something on 116 000, NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or ChildLine on 0800 1111.