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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Internet Investigation Report

D.2: The scale of the problem

3. The scale of online grooming is of real and significant concern:

3.1. As discussed in Part B, the Inquiry’s Rapid Evidence Assessment estimated that the proportion of adults holding sexualised conversations with a child is “unlikely” to be “below the lowest estimate of 1 in 10 adults”.[1]

3.2. Freedom of Information requests made to the police by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) revealed that, in the first year that section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was in force (April 2017 to April 2018), there were 3,171 recorded offences.[2] This amounts to more than eight offences each day. For the next six-month period (April 2018 to September 2018), there were more than 10 offences a day (with 1,944 offences recorded[3]). Mr Tony Stower, Head of Child Safety Online at the NSPCC, commented that the figures were “far in excess of what the NSPCC expected to discover.[4]

3.3. The scale of online grooming was also clear in evidence given to the Inquiry by individual police forces. West Midlands Police specifically reported a growth in online grooming.[5] Online grooming was the fastest growing part of the work of Kent Police’s specialist online child abuse unit.[6] Greater Manchester Police reported that, in 2015/16, the number of recorded cases of online grooming overtook the number of cases of ‘offline’ grooming.[7] There had been a 104 percent increase from 2014/15 to 2015/16 and the increase from 2015/16 to 2016/17 was expected to be around 47 percent.[8]

4. Over a three-month period in 2018, the National Crime Agency (NCA) received over 1,500 reports of grooming in respect of 12 internet platforms.[9] The NSPCC Freedom of Information requests revealed that – for the 2,097 offences where the police had recorded “the method used to communicate” – Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were used in 70 percent of cases.[10] West Midlands Police[11] and Kent Police[12] both identified Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram as the three most common platforms used by offenders in child abuse (or domestic violence) reported to the force.

5. These statistics resonate with the Inquiry’s research ‘Learning about online sexual harm’ where:

Snapchat … Facebook, Instagram … were all repeatedly cited by participants across different elements of the research as spaces where sexual harassment or other forms of online sexual harm took place.[13]

6. Google, for example, acknowledged that online grooming was encountered on YouTube in particular.[14] Kik acknowledged that online grooming could occur in its public or private chat rooms.[15]

7. When asked about the scale of online grooming on its platforms, Ms Julie de Bailliencourt, Facebook’s Senior Manager for the Global Operations Team, said that she “can’t comment on the specific numbers[16] provided by the NSPCC. Mr Hugh Milward, Senior Director for Corporate, Legal and External Affairs for Microsoft UK, acknowledged that grooming may take place on Microsoft platforms such as Xbox Live (an online gaming platform on which users can message one another) and Skype.[17] He said that Microsoft “already know about instances where there has been grooming taking place on Xbox Live”,[18] but Microsoft did not keep data on how much grooming took place on Skype.[19]

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