There are growing calls for social media platforms to face tougher laws.
Nearly 400 online grooming offences have been recorded by police in Wales in just 18 months, according to data obtained by NSPCC Wales.
The offence of sexual communication with a child came into effect in England and Wales on 3 April 2017 after an NSPCC campaign and since then, Welsh forces have logged 378 crimes. In that period, a total of 5,161 offences were recorded in England and Wales.
According to the latest Freedom of Information request submitted by the leading child protection charity, the youngest recorded victim in Wales was five years old, while girls aged between 12 and 15 were more commonly targeted by would-be groomers.
The highest number of offences in Wales were logged by South Wales Police (204) since April 2017, followed by North Wales Police (92) and Gwent Police (50).
Dyfed-Powys Police, whose response to the NSPCC’s initial FOI request covered the period from October 2017 to April 2018, have recorded 32 online grooming crimes.
In Wales, the three most commonly used platforms by groomers to target young victims were Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
The recorded use of Instagram has risen dramatically over the 18 month period in England and Wales.
From April 2017 to September 2017, where the communication method was recorded, Instagram was used by groomers in 126 instances, whereas between April 2018 and September 2018 it was recorded 428 times – more than a 200 per cent increase1 – by police forces who responded.
Ahead of the imminent publication of the UK Government’s Online Harms White Paper, the NSPCC is urging ministers to tame the Wild West Web by bringing in statutory regulation to enforce a legal duty of care to children on social networks, backed by hefty fines if they fail.
Des Mannion, NSPCC Cymru/Wales’ head of service, said: “These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks.
“We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act. It is hugely concerning to see the sharp spike in grooming offences on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people.
“After 10 years of failed self-regulation by social networks, it is crucial that the UK Government’s imminent Online Harms White Paper includes new laws that tackle online grooming once and for all.”
Between April 2018 to September 2018, police in England and Wales recorded 1,944 grooming offences2, with 104 logged by Welsh forces.
Police revealed which methods groomers used in 1,317 instances, and records show nationally that Instagram was used in 32 per cent, Facebook in 23 per cent and Snapchat in 14 per cent of those instances.
The NSPCC is concerned the majority of grooming offences continue to take place on the three largest sites with the resources to tackle this issue.