Statistics show that online child sexual abuse crimes, recorded by the PSNI, have jumped by over 80 per cent in the last three years and the team that investigates the most serious of these crimes are busier than they have ever been.
From 2020-2021, 308 such crimes were reported, which shows a big increase from the 2016-2017 figure of 178.
These offences include sexual assault, rape, or sexual communication with a child where any element of the offence was committed online.
On Internet Safety Day (8th February), the Police Service of Northern Ireland issued a video to all schools, highlighting the potential dangers for their children online.
The video encourages parents to be more aware of their child’s online activities and in particular, who they are speaking to and the types of games they are playing.
The Police’s Child Internet Protection Team (CIPT) are the busiest they have ever been since their inception in 2010. The once 8 strong Police unit have now doubled in size and are charged with investigating the most serious and complex cases of online child abuse.
Since January 2021, the team have been involved in 125 searches (nearly 3 a week), resulting in 52 arrests for offences, including possession, making and distributing indecent images and sexual communication with a child. The number of searches and arrests have increased by over 23 per cemt and 18 per sent respectively compared with the previous 12 months.
Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Brennan said: “We know that children are being groomed online in Northern Ireland.
“Children now have access to numerous digital devices at home, meaning they are at greater risk to be targeted by online predators.
“We want to help parents understand the dangers online and encourage them to have the same safeguarding conversations that they would if their children were leaving the house to go outside to play.
“Just because they are in their room on their devices, doesn’t mean they are safe. Your child could be talking to anyone online. Check in regularly, find out who they are talking to and educate yourself and your child about the importance of online safety.”
Officers are working closely with local schools, Department of Education and the Education Authority to highlight the potential dangers online, and would appeal to any parents concerned that children may be being groomed online or at risk, to contact police on 101, or in an emergency always dial 999.
For more information on how to spot the signs of online grooming you can visit the NSPCC website here.