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Council leaders warn that online child abuse is a ‘growing concern’

Councils have warned about the growing dangers of online child abuse after new figures showed that the internet was used as a gateway in more than 3,000 sex crimes against children last year.

The new figures, revealed by the NSPCC at its conference, ‘How safe are our children?’, were recorded following the introduction of ‘cyber-flagging’, where police are required to record the use of the internet in sexual abuse.

An average of eight abuses were recorded a day, including over 100 rapes of children and abuse of 272 children under 10, including a baby.

Cllr Roy Perry, chair of the LGA children and young people board, said: “Online abuse has been an area of growing concern for a number of years, and councils across the country have taken steps to make sure that teachers, social workers, children and parents are aware of the risks and know how to respond appropriately.”

He thanked parents, families, members of the public and children themselves for being increasingly aware of abuse and acting as “a thousand eyes and ears” to inform services of abuse.

Cllr Perry added that the number of children dying due to homicide or assault in England is declining and has fallen by 69% since 1985.

“We can never be complacent when it comes to the safety of children and young people, and it is right that poor practice is highlighted and improvement demanded where necessary,” he said. “However, we must take care that in our rush to improve, we don't lose sight of the unreported excellence of the vast majority of social workers, whose tough decisions and swift actions are saving children's lives every day.”

He also warned that councils had had to safeguard children’s services from public sector funding cuts.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “These figures confirm our fears that the online world is playing a significant role in the sexual abuse of children in the UK.”

He said online abuse included paedophiles grooming victims, posing as children, livestreaming abuse and forcing victims to perform sexual acts over webcam.

Wanless added that all police forces must have the resources and training to tackle online abuse, highlighting that a small number of forces were not aware of the role of the need to introduce cyber-flagging.

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