• Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Surge in grooming crimes amid delay of online safety bill

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Tens of thousands of online grooming crimes have been documented amid the prolonged process of updating online safety laws.

The awaited online safety bill is anticipated to be enacted in the autumn, though its journey to becoming law has encountered multiple alterations and delays.

Recently, government ministers have found themselves compelled to uphold the bill against concerns expressed by tech companies, fearing that its implementation might weaken encryption practices.

Highlighting the urgency of the bill, the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) has called upon both tech firms and Members of Parliament to lend their support.

Their call comes as UK police forces have reported a staggering 34,000 instances of online grooming crimes over the last six years, The Guardian reported.

The NSPCC initially advocated for more stringent online safety regulations in 2017. Based on data from 42 UK police forces, the NSPCC revealed that 6,350 offenses related to sexual communication with a child were recorded last year.

This represents an 82% surge since the introduction of this offense in 2017-18.

Notably, 73% of these crimes involved platforms like Snapchat or Meta-linked websites, with a considerable 5,500 offenses targeting primary school-aged children.

The parliamentary discussions on the online safety bill are expected to conclude when the summer recess concludes in a few weeks.

Sir Peter Wanless, the Chief Executive of NSPCC, emphasised the significance of their research findings. He stressed the immense scale of child abuse transpiring on social media platforms and underscored the profound necessity for the online safety bill.

The bill is poised to offer crucial protections to children in their online interactions. The charity’s insights also revealed the prevalence of gender bias in these incidents.

In cases where the gender of the victim was known, 83% of the social media grooming cases over the last six years were directed against girls.

Police data disclosed that approximately 150 apps, games, and websites were employed to target children.

While the NSPCC applauds the progress made with the legislation, they also express their desire for comprehensive regulation encompassing emerging technologies, such as AI.

Aiming to prevent undue risk to children, Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, urged companies intending to adopt end-to-end encryption to incorporate robust safety features.

She emphasised that without such features, abusers could exploit encryption to evade detection and continue their harmful activities.

The government has affirmed that the online safety bill will come into law within a few months.

Collaboration with communications regulator Ofcom is ongoing to ensure timely enforcement of child protections.

In the interim, law enforcement is working closely with social media platforms to bring perpetrators of online crimes to justice.

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