Last week the NSPCC revealed that in Yorkshire and Humber region grooming crimes have soared in the last year by 59 per cent, writes NSPCC campaigns manager Helen Westerman.
In West Yorkshire alone there were 208 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded in the year to April 2019 compared with 147 in the previous year. The national data also revealed that, where the age of the victim was provided, one in five were aged just 11 or younger. These are startling figures and may have worried a great many of you, especially those of you with children getting to grips with their very own mobile device for the first time.
As parents, it is deeply disturbing to think our children may be exposed to predators when they are online. Freya, whose name has been changed, was 12 when, while she was staying at a friend’s house, a stranger bombarded her Instagram account with sexual messages and videos. Her mum told the NSPCC: “She was quiet and seemed on edge when she came home the next day. I noticed her shaking and knew there was something wrong so encouraged her to tell me what the problem was. When she showed me the messages, I just felt sick. It was such a violation and he was so persistent.”
It is so easy to feel despair and perhaps overwhelmed at the thought of the risks our children face online, but my message is clear that by working together we can make our children safer online. The government could commit to its promise to introduce robust regulation for social media firms and we, as parents, can play our part by having regular online safety chats with our children. Our partners at the NSPCC, particularly O2, are working together to help support parents gain the knowledge and confidence to discuss online safety and take practical steps in keeping our children safe online such as setting privacy settings, blocking locations etc.
O2 also encourages its employees to get behind this partnership, and raise vital funds so the organisations can do more to help families enjoy the digital world safely. Just last Friday a wonderful team from the Leeds offices (pictured) took part in a 25k walk around Temple Newsam Park to raise funds for things like the NSPCC and O2’s free advice line, online safety workshops for parents and the Net Aware website, which highlights the latest 50 apps, games and websites used by children.
Thanks to their fundraising, and that of countless supporters across West Yorkshire, we can continue to support parents and children make the most of the internet safely and hold both the government and social media companies to public account.
You can find more information at www.net-aware.org.uk or call 0808 800 5002.