Wokingham.Today

Police warn online child sexual abuse has risen by 146% in lockdown

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Darnell of the TVP Protecting Vulnerable People unit

ONLINE child sexual abuse is on the rise during lockdown, warn police.

Yesterday, Thames Valley Police (TVP) told Wokingham.Today that criminals are using these extraordinary circumstances as a way to exploit and target young people when they are online. 

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Darnell of the TVP Protecting Vulnerable People unit, said: “Reports of online child sexual abuse have been 146% higher than last year’s figures.

“In 2019, we received 26 referrals of abuse through the national crime agency but last month this was 64 referrals.

“Our advice to parents is to trust your instincts. Parents know their children’s behaviour, if they’re acting more secretive, or sad and withdrawn without explanation, or are distracted and have sudden mood swings these may be signs something is wrong.”

Mr Darnell encouraged parents to have open and honest conversations with their children about internet use, and recommended that children aged 11 or younger are always in a family space such as the lounge or kitchen when using the internet.

“Abuse can happen at any age — children, teenagers and adults can all be affected by it,” he said. 

“Many young people are incredibly computer literate, have their own smart devices and games consoles and will be using the internet to stay in touch with friends whilst we all stay at home. 

“But, those they are speaking to online may not be who they say they are and they can leave themselves vulnerable to those who will manipulate and groom children into what they feel is a trusting relationship.”

Mr Darnell explained that sexual abuse and exploitation can take many forms, including coercion, blackmail and grooming. And it can happen anywhere digital, such as social networks, online gaming or using mobile phones. 

“Whilst at home, I encourage parents and carers to take a look at the free online activity packs on the Thinkuknow website,” he said. “These resources are released fortnightly from the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection command to support the closure of schools during Covid-19.

“They contain two 15-minute activities, tailored to a number of different age groups and are focused on improving online safety.

“I also urge you to have a conversation with your children about privacy settings and ensure that they are secure on the apps and social networks that they are using.”

And if young people feel they cannot talk openly with their parents about the issue, Mr Darnell advises speaking to an adult they trust instead — whether another reactive, teacher or sports coach.

“What’s important is that the police are always there,” he added. “If you have concerns about it, speak to an adult and then inform the police.

“Despite lockdown we are continuing to follow up all information and intelligence received. And we will use all our resources possible to catch the perpetrators.”

“People who attempt to exploit children online are very serious criminals, and we want to send a message to them that this type of offending will never be tolerated. 

“These are extraordinary times, but our message remains the same as always – if you attempt to exploit children on the internet, you will be caught, brought to justice and will face severe consequences for your actions.”

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