On 3rd April 2017, an offence of Sexual Communication with a Child, Section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was introduced and became enforceable.

When the government wrote the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it was common for child sexual predators to communicate and commit offences when in direct contact with a child. Social media sites had not been invented at this time and Facebook only began its famed history in 2004. But today, social networks are used widely across the world and reveal more information about people than has ever previously been possible. Legitimate and necessary conversations can now be held via text, video and voice calls over the internet, in a timely and cost-effective way.

However, this has caused huge concerns about our own personal data, specifically that of our children who use these communication platforms. Unfortunately, I believe that this recent figure from the NSPCC of 5,100 online grooming crimes recorded by police in just 18 months is simply the tip of the iceberg.

It is crucial for society to be aware of these offences, that can be committed against children and then develop the armour to protect them accordingly. We no longer live in an era where we can close our doors to protect our children, at a time when global communications are rapidly changing.

In 2008, Professor Tanya Byron published a report called “Safer Children in a Digital World”. A decade on from Professor Byron’s findings, the government has still yet to tackle the 38 recommendations she wrote in conclusion to her findings. Subsequently, the government promised to make the UK, “the safest place in the world for children online”, however, only 16 of these recommendations have since been acted on.

One of the key recommendations was for every website to adhere to a voluntary code of protection. It was recommended that each website should create their own policy to protect children from online sexual predators; there is still no consistent commitment by websites to produce or monitor their website activity for this purpose.

When the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was amended, Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, an offence of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sexual offence was criminalised. This offence is not committed when there has been sexual communication only. Advances in our technology is providing ever expanding methods of communication and criminal legislation was failing to protect children who were being exposed to sexualised discussions only.

Social media platforms have not previously been held accountable for the way they manage personal data, communications and profile compliance (specific age ranges), as highlighted by the NSPCC. Other areas of UK law are strongly legislated when it comes to monitoring of a person’s data and privacy, so why not social media?

One reason is that UK police forces hold voluntary relationships with other countries where there is not currently any legally binding legislation to release intelligence or data about social media profiles or conversation threads; therefore, vital evidence can be lost. To fully tackle this problem once and for all, we need to not just look at UK law but at global legislation. There has to be an agreed co-ordinated compliance across every jurisdiction, taking into account those countries who adhere to the European Convention of Human Rights. Until this happens, it is feared that the number of cases recently reported by the NSPCC will simply continue to rise.

Contact us

Our Abuse team, led by Natalie Marrison, have extensive experience supporting survivors who have been affected by online grooming. For a completely confidential discussion please contact the Ramsdens Abuse team on 0113 8871 834.