Are Children More at Risk of Online Grooming during Coronavirus?

Author:
Nathalie Swanwick
Abuse Claims Solicitor
Date:
12/02/2021

A recent analysis by the NSPCC showed that online sex crimes against children rose by 17% in the first few months of the first Coronavirus lockdown, and worryingly this number could continue to rise as the UK spends increasingly more time online.

With many children spending more time online learning, many of us might be worrying about our children’s safety more than ever.

Head of NSPCC Andy Burrows said “It’s clear that the pandemic has increased the demand for child abuse images, and the grooming and sexual abuse of children that creates them.”

The National Crime Agency (NCA) also revealed in a recent report that at least 300,000 people were found to pose a sexual threat to children in the UK last year, with many of them using online sites to target them.

Currently we are seeing increasing examples of online sex crimes. A man from Norfolk has been jailed for 25 years for a series of sex offences against 51 boys. The National Crime Agency Director Rob Jones described the man as “one of the prolific child abuse offenders the NCA has ever investigated.”

Sex Offender Jailed for Posing as Girls Online

David Wilson blackmailed the boys into sending him indecent images and videos by posing as teenage girls online. In some cases, Wilson would use the images to blackmail the boys into sending extreme footage of them abusing their younger friends or siblings.

Wilson was charged with 96 offences, taking place between 2016 and 2020. His victims were aged between 4 and 14. The Court heard that Wilson groomed one victim when he was struggling with his father dying from cancer, while another victim begged Wilson to stop as his grandfather was about to die.

During the sentencing, Judge Rupert Overbury called Wilson “an extremely dangerous individual”, who “carried out a lengthy and premediated campaign of sadistic and manipulative abuse of young boys using social media.”

The Police began compiling evidence on Wilson after Facebook identified 20 accounts of boys aged between 12 and 15 years old, who had sent images of themselves to an account belonging to what looked like a 13 year old girl.

Predators often use social media to target children, and while many platforms are taking steps to put measures in place to protect children, Facebook have recently been criticised by several child protection organisations for their plans to encrypt messages on their platforms.

The parent of one of Wilson’s victims raised her concerns about this, telling the BBC, “If it becomes too difficult for law enforcement agencies to track these people then we won’t be able to protect our children and people like him will be able to get away with it.”

Police are urging anyone who’s been affected by David Wilson to come forward.

Protecting Children Online

If you’re a parent or carer with young children or teenagers, it’s important to have conversations with your children about online safety and grooming, and encourage them to talk to you about anything that feels uncomfortable online.

There are also other measures you can put in place such as setting up parental controls on the devices your children are using, and checking that internet connected devices are safe to use.

While we can’t control everything our children will see online, talking to children honestly about what to look out for and encouraging them to talk to you openly will help you tackle and report any suspicious behavior early on.

Whether you’re a parent, carer, teacher or a child yourself, there are a few websites offering advice, guidance and support for keeping safe online:

  • Thinkuknow – An educational website by the NCA, offering advice for children and adults of all ages
  • Own It – A BBC app to help the wellbeing of young people online
  • Internet Matters – Support and practical tips for families about keeping safe online
  • Young Minds Parents Helpline – A confidential helpline for parents who are worried about their child

Support from an Abuse Solicitor

If you or someone you know has been affected by child abuse, please don’t hesitate to come forward and report your concerns to the police.

Our friendly and approachable Abuse Solicitors are also just one phone call away if you need advice and support. We’ve got years of experience in helping victims report their abuse to the police and make a claim for compensation, so they can get the closure and justice they deserve.

Get in touch today for a confidential chat.

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