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NSPCC: 100 sex crimes in Scotland every month Online Safety Bill is delayed

(Peter Byrne/PA)
(Peter Byrne/PA)

A charity has warned that more than 100 online sex crimes will be committed against children in Scotland every month the Online Safety Bill is delayed.

The NSPCC said on Thursday its analysis of Police Scotland crime data found that online child sexual abuse offences had more than doubled over the last decade.

It said 1,298 indecent image offences and crimes of communicating indecently with a child were logged in the year to March, up from 543 offences 10 years ago.

A victim of online abuse, who was first targeted a decade ago aged 13, said it was “sickening that since then the number of young people being abused online has grown dramatically”.

“Being groomed has had a horrific impact on my life and I want no other young person to endure that,” ‘Frida’ told the charity.

“I know this delay to the Online Safety Bill will see more young people like me experience harm when it could have been prevented, and that is devastating.”

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “With every second the clock ticks by on the Online Safety Bill, an ever-growing number of children and families face the unimaginable trauma of preventable child abuse.”

The charity said the rise in online crime against children underlined the need for for Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to commit to passing the legislation in full and without delay.

The Bill was set to be passed in the House of Commons last week, but was put on hold until a new prime minister is appointed.

“There can be no more important mission for Government than to keep children safe from abuse, and the next prime minister must keep the promise made to families in the election manifesto and deliver the Online Safety Bill as a national priority,” Sir Peter said.

The Bill will force social media firms and other user-generated content-based sites to remove illegal material from their platforms, with a particular emphasis on protecting children from harmful content.

Sir Peter Wanless
Sir Peter Wanless (Ian West/PA)

The largest platforms – such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – will have to tackle named forms of “legal but harmful” content, which could include issues such as promoting self-harm or eating disorders.

But the Bill is at the centre of a tug-of-war between online safety campaigners – who believe more needs to be done to protect people, especially children, from the swathes of harmful content online – and free speech campaigners who see the Bill as an enabler to online censorship.

Over five years, it has gone through several different governments and ministers, meaning it has been expanded and reshaped on multiple occasions as priorities and key concerns have changed.

Sir Peter said: “The need for legislation to protect children is clear, commands overwhelming support from MPs and the public, and builds on the UK’s global leadership position in tackling harm online.

“Robust regulation can be delivered while protecting freedom of speech and privacy.”

Earlier this month the NSPCC said reports of online grooming targeting children under 13 had climbed by more than 60% north of the border.

Across the UK, the charity said, data from 41 police forces revealed an 84% rise in grooming since 2017/18, with more than 27,000 offences in the past five years.

A UK Government spokesman said: “Child sexual abuse is a horrific crime against the most vulnerable in our society. We are leaving no stone unturned to prevent and pursue offenders and keep children safe online and in our communities across the UK and around the world.

“The Online Safety Bill is a key measure in this regard, as it will ensure companies take proactive action to keep children safe from child sexual abuse and exploitation on their platforms.”