NSPCC Alarmed At Rise In Online Child Abuse In NI

Online child abuse is a growing trend says NSPCC

Online child abuse is a growing trend says NSPCC

Government plans to regulate social media may not prevent online child abuse warns NSPCC Northern Ireland, as record number of child sex offences with an online element are recorded by the PSNI.

  • Child sexual abuse offences involving an online element recorded by Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) increased by over 80% in last 3 years.
  • Last year alone (2020/21) there were 308 recorded offences in Northern Ireland which is an all-time high.

Figures obtained by NSPCC Northern Ireland reveal that child sexual abuse crimes with an online element, recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, have jumped by over 80% in the last three years to an all-time high. These offences include sexual assault, rape or sexual communication with a child where any element of the offence was committed online.

The NSPCC charity is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to prioritise child online safety by funding and fully implementing the Online Safety Strategy and Action Plan without delay, taking timely and meaningful action to fully protect children from harm.

The charity is also calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to work closely with the UK Government to step up the ambition of the Online Harms Bill to ensure that its proposals comprehensively tackle an online abuse threat that is greater than ever before.

It says the Draft Online Safety Bill published in May needs to go much further to keep children safe and ensure it creates a practical response proportionate to the scale and nature of the child abuse problem.

The Bill is currently being scrutinised by a Joint Committee of MPs and Lords who are due to report the findings to Government in December 2021. Experts say the Bill presents a crucial opportunity to ensure legislation provides solutions that comprehensively fix the way platforms are exploited by abusers.

The stats provided by the PSNI to the NSPCC showing a marked rise in recorded cases on online child abuse.

The NSPCC wants to see the Bill strengthened to address how abuse rapidly spreads across platforms and ensure it responds effectively to content that facilitates abuse.

A 16 year-old girl from Northern Ireland told one of our Childline counsellors: “When I was 11 years old I met a 25-year-old guy online. We talked every day and a few days before I turned 12 he asked me to date him. I said yes. From then our conversations became sexual.  It started with extremely disgusting jokes, but he also talked about molesting and raping me. I was 11 and didn’t understand. I eventually blocked him and no longer have any contact but this man shredded all of my confidence and I experience anxiety attacks and recurring dreams about him all these years later.”

A 17 year-old boy, also from Northern Ireland, told a Childline counsellor: “I sent nudes to a person who then threatened to send them to mutual friends.  I am gay but my parents don’t know and I don’t want them finding out. I just want the guy to no longer have the images so I don’t need to dread people finding out. I don’t know what I can do?” *

Natalie Whelehan, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: “Children should be able to explore the online world safely but instead we are witnessing a dramatic and hugely troubling growth in the scale of online abuse. The increase in these figures is truly shocking and shows the need for urgent action to protect children.

“To respond to the size and complexity of the threat, the Government must put child protection front and centre of its response to tackling online abuse by funding and fully implementing the Online Safety Strategy and Action plan in Northern Ireland and working closely with the UK Government to ensure the Online Safety Bill is sufficiently robust enough to prevent children suffering online abuse.

“Child safety must be the yardstick against which the actions of our Government are judged and robust measures are needed now to keep children truly safe today and in the future.”

The NSPCC has been calling for Duty of Care regulation of social media since 2017 and has been at the forefront of campaigning for the Online Safety Bill.

The charity is also encouraging any young people who may be worried that nude pictures and videos may end up online to report the material via the charity’s ‘Report remove’ function on their Childline website. A world-first, the tool allows young people to flag images and videos with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) which will then review the content and work to have it removed if it breaks the law.