Eighteen child grooming crimes have been recorded in Derbyshire in the first six months of a new law coming into force after a campaign by the NSPCC.
Derbyshire Police has recorded 18 offences of Sexual Communication with a Child since the new anti-grooming law came into force on April 3 last year.
The NSPCC is now calling on the government and social networks to develop technology already at their disposal to prevent grooming, and bring in grooming alerts for victims and moderators.
Freedom of Information requests to police forces in England and Wales show that:
* 1,316 offences of Sexual Communication with a Child were recorded in just six months
* Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram were the most common methods used by groomers, in 63 per cent of cases where communication method was recorded
* Girls aged 12-15 were the most likely to be targeted by predators, and the youngest victims were aged seven.
The youngest victim in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire was just ten years old. The majority of victims were aged between 12 and 15.
Before the new law came into force, police could not intervene until groomers met their victims. In 2015 former England footballer Adam Johnson sent sexual messages to a 15-year-old girl, before meeting her and engaging in sexual activity. Police being able to step in sooner is an important step, but government must now act to prevent grooming, the NSPCC said.
Algorithms are already used by social networks to target adverts at social media users, and to detect illegal content online.
The NSPCC said the same techniques must now be developed to:
* Alert children to potential grooming behaviour from adults they speak to online.
* Alert moderators of suspected groomers and enable them to notify police.
* Groomer alerts for children must be introduced as part of the Government’s Internet Safety Strategy.
Tony Stower, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online, said: “Despite the staggering number of grooming offences in just six months, government and social networks are not properly working together and using all the tools available to stop this crime from happening.
“Government’s Internet Safety Strategy must require social networks to build in technology to keep their young users safe, rather than relying on police to step in once harm has already been done.
“If government makes a code for social networks that is entirely optional and includes no requirement for platforms to tackle grooming, this is a massive missed opportunity and children will continue to be put at risk.”
Children who are worried about inappropriate messages online can contact Childline on 0800 11 11 or using the online chat function at www.childline.org.uk.