Dramatic Rise in Online Child Sex Crimes Leads to Calls for Tighter Regulations

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Dramatic Rise in Online Child Sex Crimes Leads to Calls for Tighter Regulations


What started as a children’s online game ended in violent sexual assault. Danielle Armitage, now 25, has waived her anonymity to warn others about what happened to her when she was just 14.

Its story is part of a growing problem. The number of reported cases of predators abusing children after contacting them online has increased by 78% in just four years.

The new data comes from research conducted by children’s charity NSPCC, which says government plans to regulate social media “fall dramatically” when it comes to protecting children from child abuse. preventable line.

For Danielle, her nightmare began playing an interactive game in a virtual world. Here she met another player; John Graham Edwards claimed to be 16 but was 49.

He used the game’s private chat room to prey on young girls like Danielle. Having children himself, he knew the kinds of things young teenagers talked about.

Danielle said, “He had a general idea of ​​how teens, children and young adults this age spoke. So that seemed normal to a point. And he was telling me about how my day was, general interests.

“And we just got to know each other in a more personal, deeper relationship. Then he started to be quite flirtatious. “

Eventually, they arranged to meet and Edwards kidnapped Danielle, taking her into a forest in his car.

She said, “I obviously looked and froze when I saw who this person was and how old this person was… So he took me to a forest. He was very abrupt.

“He told me to take off all my clothes. And I was terrified and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where I was. I knew I was quite far from home. And I just did what he told me to do.

“So he told me to undress and took pictures in the forest. “

Edwards then used fear and violence to sexually abuse her. A digital game had led to the horror of real life.

Danielle’s story is becoming more and more common.

Data obtained from 39 police forces in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, via freedom of information requests, shows that the number of sexual offenses linked to The internet has grown 78% in four years, from 5,458 in 2016 to over 9,736 last time. year.

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The data follows grooming statistics which showed similar trends last month – however, those numbers relate to all child sex offenses that police have cyber-flagged.

It could be rape or sexual assault – which involved an online element. The Home Office introduced the reporting system in 2015/16 as a way to track how the online world facilitates crimes.

The NSPCC wants to strengthen the government’s online security bill.

The charity says legislation should place a duty on tech companies to tackle cross-platform risks, including how groomers often target children on social media and then move between platforms to encrypted messaging and live streaming sites.

They also want to include criminal penalties for companies that fail to protect children on their platform and a nominee program, which would engage the personal liability of senior executives at tech companies.

A new report from the NSPCC has examined the bill.

It notes that while the government seeks to introduce criminal sanctions against senior officials, the report states: “The sanctions would only apply in cases where a senior official does not comply with a request for information, or seeks information. knowingly to mislead. Above all, they wouldn’t. apply with respect to actual product or safety decisions. As a result, there is no direct relationship in the bill between the responsibility of senior management and the exercise by a platform of its safety obligations. “

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Targeted children with online graphic content. July Video

Report author Andy Burrows, head of online child safety policy at NSPCC, told Sky News: “What we would like to see are really comprehensive criminal penalties, so if a senior executive consistently and repeatedly fails to ensure that its platform is fundamentally safe for children, there should be a criminal safety net.

“It will really focus minds, it will ensure that in the CEO’s offices, in the senior management offices here in the UK and in California, child safety is no longer an afterthought, it won’t be something that is outside of the company’s business models, it will be at the center of the business decisions they make, and that’s really long overdue. “

He added: ‘We have seen tech companies claim that it will somehow harm the UK as a place where they can do business, but let’s be clear, now is not the time to take half measures. or half-solutions when we see the scale of online child abuse that we see, then the government’s clear goal should be to make sure that this legislation, this regulation works. “

Campaigners are making comparisons with the city in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis – regulation has been tightened with a shift in focus towards personal responsibility and the responsibility of the elderly within financial institutions.

This is, according to the NSPCC, the only way to change the culture today in technology companies.

In response to this, a government spokesperson told Sky News: “Our new laws will be the most comprehensive in the world to protect children online.

“Social media companies will need to remove child pornography and prevent young people from being treated or exposed to harmful content such as pornography or images of self-harm.

“Failed companies will face heavy fines or have their sites blocked, and we will have the power to hold senior executives criminally responsible for failing to protect children.” “

Danielle’s assailant was later convicted and jailed for abusing her and for offenses against two other children.

She recently found out that when he was released he created a new online character that he used to prep more kids and was convicted again last year.

Danielle said, “It starts with these websites; it starts with these apps. It starts with the Internet. So I think they should be held accountable for part of that. “

It’s too easy for the abusers. Campaigners say parenting and child awareness, education in schools, and internet regulation are all forms of child protection that urgently need to be improved.

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