128 online grooming offences recorded in Essex
1 March 2019, 09:17 | Updated: 1 March 2019, 09:18
128 online grooming offences have been recorded by Essex Police in just 18 months.
Data obtained by the NSPCC shows there were more than 5000 cases across England and Wales between April 2017 and September 2018.
It also reveals the number of children being groomed and abused on Instagram has more than tripled in just a year.
The data obtained from 39 of the 43 forces in England and Wales, under Freedom of Information laws, also shows that in the latest six month period, girls aged 12 to 15 were most likely to be targeted by groomers and victims included children as young as five years old.
Ahead of the imminent publication of the Government's Online Harms White Paper, the NSPCC is urging ministers to bring in statutory regulation to enforce a legal duty of care to children on social networks, backed by hefty fines if they fail.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, 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 Government's imminent Online Harms White Paper includes new laws that tackle online grooming once and for all."