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Abuse victims increasingly being groomed online

An increasing number of child sex abuse victims are now groomed through social networking websites or by mobile phone, according to a report by leading charity Barnardo’s.

The use of technology in targeting children “markedly increased” in just one year said Barnardo’s. It is perhaps not surprising that exploitation takes place “over the internet, through mobile phones, online gaming and instant messaging”, given the central role of technology in young people’s lives.

Warning that in many cases young people are encouraged to take explicit photographs of themselves, Barnardo’s said that parents, schools and children themselves need to be aware of the risks. It wants schools to be told not to delete explicit images they find on pupils’ phones, in case they could be used as evidence in court cases.

Over a year ago, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre claimed paedophiles are using Twitter to discuss abuse and post links to child pornography images. Facebook came under pressure to install a 'panic button' so young users could alert police if they find a paedophile posing as a teenager.

Barnardo’s is concerned that public service budget cuts are in danger of affecting services to protect victims.

The number of children we work with rose, yet we are still not seeing the urgency of action we would expect for such an horrific crime.

Too many children from all walks of life can so quickly be caught up in a world of drugs, violence and sex – this is a sickening slur on our society and we must do all we can to end it.

Anne Marie Carrie, Barnardo’s chief executive
Most grooming takes place either in private or in places such as cafes and parks, with 9 out of 10 victims being girls, of which almost half have run away from home.

Increasing numbers of victims are exploited by people their own age, or even younger, who either abuse them themselves or bring them to abusers. The Barnardo’s report also highlighted the extent of exploitation by organised gangs, which often move children around the country and sometimes use businesses as a cover.

“Almost all services reported it as an increasing priority, and some have identified that the majority of their service users were initially groomed via social networking sites and mobile technology.”