Safe and sound has joined thousands of organisations across Europe to highlight the potential dangers of the internet - particularly for children and young people - and is supporting Safer Internet Day (Tuesday, February 6, 2024).
The annual day aims to encourage everyone to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. This year the focus is on the importance of age-appropriate digital services, with every child protected, empowered and respected online.
Our focus on this day is the growing prevalence of criminals using the internet to groom children and young people for their own purposes.
The latest national statistics show there has been an 82 per cent rise in online grooming crimes against children in the past six years since sexual communication with a child was officially recognised as a criminal offence.
In the East Midlands alone, more than 2,600 online grooming crimes have been recorded by police in the past six years since this was officially recognised as a criminal offence which means literally hundreds of children and young people in Derbyshire have been targeted by predators.
Online grooming can involve young people being being blackmailed into sharing indecent photographs of themselves; have been sent horrific images and pornography and, in some cases, have been coerced into meeting up with the perpetrators and subjected to life-changing emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
These figures are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg with many more young people too afraid or ashamed to ask for help - petrified that their abuser will mete out the retribution they have threatened or fearful that they will not be believed and somehow be blamed for what has happened.
I particularly appeal to families to be far more vigilant about the dangers online for young people. Please set the highest possible privacy settings on their social media, gaming and search engine apps and channels.
Most of us would question a young person as they leave the home about where they are going and who they are meeting. It’s the same for online activity.
For more advice and information, please visit www.safeandsoundgroup.org.uk
Tracy Harrison, CEO of Derbyshire charity, Safe and Sound
Guest Column, the Buxton Advertiser, 25 January 2024