Latest figures show there were 25,311 instances of “obscene publications” between April 2019 and April 2020, compared to 13,037 in the same period in 2015-2016. Cases of child grooming have also increased six-fold, from 963 to 5,878. This is part of a wider trend showing a huge increase in sexually-based crimes against minors across England and Wales. Instances of sexual assault on under-16s have risen from 11,515 to 14,217, while rape has also seen a surge, from 5,321 to 6,779.
Figures from 2020 reveal a sharp increase during lockdown as more children are online for longer, with 17,699 online child sex offences recorded by police in England and Wales between April and September.
This was 2,516 more than during same period in 2019.
Charities say the statistics reveal the heightened risk youngsters face from abusers online during the pandemic.
Susie Hargreaves, CEO at the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “Children are online for longer with some being tricked, encouraged or coerced into sharing very graphic sexual images of themselves.
“Of all the children we see, over 90 percent are girls and 80 percent are girls aged 11 to 13.
“These are often children in normal bedrooms, smart bedrooms, not necessarily abandoned or with parents neglecting them. It is a case of parents not being aware of what’s happening in their own home.”
Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: “The Government’s Online Safety Bill comes at a crucial time. It can lead to ground-breaking protections if it gives the regulator the power to hold tech firms accountable.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy will ensure offenders are swiftly brought to justice. It includes equipping police with enhanced powers and tools, introducing the Online Safety Bill and GCHQ collaborating with the tech industry on solutions to crack down on child sexual abuse.”