Girl of 11 from NI threatened with rape by 25-year-old man as online child abuse shows dramatic rise

The number of child sex offences which involve an online element has increased by 80% in the past three years in the Province.
NSPCC Northern Ireland’s Natalie Whelehan wants to see urgent action from the NI Executive and UK GovernmentNSPCC Northern Ireland’s Natalie Whelehan wants to see urgent action from the NI Executive and UK Government
NSPCC Northern Ireland’s Natalie Whelehan wants to see urgent action from the NI Executive and UK Government

Given the scale of the problem, NSPCC Northern Ireland has warned that government plans to regulate social media may not be enough to prevent online child abuse.

Figures obtained by the organisation from the PSNI revealed that 308 child sexual abuse crimes with an online element took place in 2020/21. It is almost double the number of offences in 2017/2018 (171) and represents an 80% increase over three years.

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The offences include sexual assault, rape or sexual communication with a child where any element of the offence was committed online.

NSPCC NI gave examples of some of things young people have told Childline counsellors.

A 16-year-old girl from Northern Ireland said she met a 25-year-old man online when she was 11: “We talked every day and a few days before I turned 12 he asked me to date him. I said yes. From then our conversations became sexual.

“It started with extremely disgusting jokes, but he also talked about molesting and raping me.

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“I was 11 and didn’t understand. I eventually blocked him and no longer have any contact but this man shredded all of my confidence and I experience anxiety attacks and recurring dreams about him all these years later.”

A 17 year-old boy, also from Northern Ireland, said: “I sent nudes to a person who then threatened to send them to mutual friends. I am gay but my parents don’t know and I don’t want them finding out.

“I just want the guy to no longer have the images so I don’t need to dread people finding out. I don’t know what I can do?”

NSPCC NI has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to fund and fully implement the Online Safety Strategy and Action Plan without delay.

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The charity is also wants the Executive to work closely with the UK Government to step up the ambition of the Online Harms Bill to ensure that its proposals comprehensively tackle an online abuse threat that is greater than ever before.

It says the Draft Online Safety Bill published in May needs to go much further to keep children safe and ensure it creates a practical response proportionate to the scale and nature of the child abuse problem.

The Bill is currently being scrutinised by a Joint Committee of MPs and Lords who are due to report the findings to Government this December.

NSPCC Northern Ireland’s Natalie Whelehan said child safety should be the yardstick against which the government is judged.

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She said: “Children should be able to explore the online world safely but instead we are witnessing a dramatic and hugely troubling growth in the scale of online abuse.

“The increase in these figures is truly shocking and shows the need for urgent action to protect children.

“Child safety must be the yardstick against which the actions of our Government are judged and robust measures are needed now to keep children truly safe today and in the future.”

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