Sexual offences: NSPCC reveals number of cyber-enabled crimes against children in Northern Ireland

NSPCC headquarters.
NSPCC headquarters.
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The equivalent of almost five cyber-enabled sex crimes against children are being recorded every week in Northern Ireland, it has emerged.

The NSPCC has urged the next prime minister to prioritise protecting children online, as it revealed the figures ahead of its annual conference on Tuesday.

In 2018/19, a total of 243 recorded sexual offences against children were flagged by the PSNI as having an online element.

This represents a 268% increase over the past four years from 66 offences in 2014/15.

In total, 12% of all 2,036 recorded sexual offences against children in Northern Ireland last year were cyber-enabled.

A record 8,224 child sexual offences logged by police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had an online element, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC through a Freedom of Information request in England and Wales, and provided by the PSNI in Northern Ireland.

Across the UK, a total of 40 out of 44 forces provided the NSPCC with data on cyber-related sex crimes against under 18s, including online grooming, sexual communication with a child, and rape.

For offences where the age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim, but there were 164 offences committed against children aged ten and under, even including babies yet to reach their first birthday.

The NSPCC fears that the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to potential under-recording of the role of online in these crimes and wide logging variation across forces.

It also comes on top of other online harms against children recorded by police such as indecent image offences.

The figures have been disclosed ahead of the NSPCC's annual conference How Safe Are Our Children? which begins on Tuesday in London.

Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC Northern Ireland, said the figures are "the tip of the iceberg".

"Behind each offence is a vulnerable child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg," he said.

"Thousands of children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it's now time for the next prime minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.

"He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content."