More than 10,000 offences of online child sexual crimes were recorded for the first time by police forces last year, the NSPCC has warned.
A Freedom of Information request by the children’s charity revealed that 10,391 crimes were recorded by all forces across the UK in 2019-20 including heinous crimes such as sexual assault, rape and grooming.
Although the FOI statistics do not include the lockdown period, research suggest that risks to children online have increased during this period, and the number of Childline counselling sessions about online grooming have increased.
Andy Burrows, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online Policy said: "These figures suggest that online abuse was already rising before lockdown, and the risks to children appear to have spiked significantly since."
The 10,391 offences increased by 16% from the previous year. In the five years since it became mandatory to record crimes involving the internet, the total number of recorded offences has risen more than 37,000.
The government published the Online Harms White Paper in April 2019 but have yet to produce the final consultation response.
The charity’s #WildWestWeb campaign is calling for the government to push forward with the Online Harms White Paper and to set up an independent regulator who would have the power to investigate and fine social networks if they failed to protect children. The NSPCC is also urging the government to publish its final plans before the end of the year, and pass legislation by the end of 2021.
Andy Burrows added: "It is now almost 17 months since the government’s original proposals for social media regulation were published and children continue to face preventable harm online."
"The Prime Minister needs to prioritise introducing a truly comprehensive Online Harms Bill this Autumn and pass legislation by the end of 2021 that sees tech firms held criminally and financially accountable if they continue to put children at risk," he concluded.