MORE THAN 100 sex crimes against children took place across the West Midlands last year, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC.
There were 141 offences including rapes, sexual assaults, grooming victims before meeting them, and inciting children to take part in a sex act during 2015/16.
This is the first time police have been required to record – ‘cyber flag’ – any sexual crime against a child that involved the use of the internet and highlights a worrying trend, with an average of eight crimes a day being reported across England and Wales.
Most victims in the West Midlands were 13-year-olds and there were 19 victims aged 10 and under.
These troubling figures were revealed earlier this week when the NSPCC launched its state of the nation annual report How Safe Are Our Children? at the charity’s annual conference in London.
With children spending more time online and using social media the NSPCC is urging police forces to ensure all officers understand when to apply the cyber-flag to sex crimes, so that they are recording and investigating them effectively.
Sandra McNair, NSPCC West Midlands head of service, said: “These figures confirm our fears that the online world is playing a significant role in the sexual abuse of children in the UK.
“It’s clear that a large volume of sexual assaults and rapes of children have involved the use of the internet – for example by grooming victims before abusing them offline, or live-streaming the abuse.
“We know grooming is on the rise because children are increasingly telling our ChildLine service how they are being targeted online.
“Predatory adults posing as children try to meet them or blackmail them into meeting up or performing sexual acts on webcams, which obviously terrifies them and can leave some feeling suicidal.
“By revealing this first year of data we hope to highlight how police are under increasing pressure to cope with online offences so we have to ensure they have the resources and training to make them fit for tackling crime in the 21st century.
“And government must make mental health support available to every child who has endured abuse – as we are calling for through our It’s Time campaign.”
There was wide variation across the country in the numbers of offences that were cyber-flagged with some forces recording hundreds of crimes while others had fewer than ten.
A small number of forces said they were not using, or did not know about, the cyber-flag requirement, which was introduced by the Home Office at the beginning of April 2015 to get a better understanding of the extent of online offences.