Figures released by Childline show the number of counselling sessions for children worried about online sexual abuse rose in 2015/16 by 24 per cent to 3,716 across the UK.
Most of these were aged 12 to 15 and almost two-thirds were girls. One in eight of the sessions - 459 - related specifically to grooming, an increase of 21 per cent.
Research from the charity has revealed how the internet is increasingly used as a gateway by offenders to commit crimes including sexual assaults, sexual exploitation and grooming. Now Childline is launching a new campaign, ‘Listen To Your Selfie’ aimed at helping young people recognise the signs of grooming and unhealthy relationships, both online and offline.
The campaign, which has been funded by BBC Children in Need, features two films where selfies come to life and question a situation - The Game focuses on a same-sex online grooming scenario – and The Party highlights peer to peer sexual pressure and grooming.
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One Nottinghamshire mum’s daughter was 15 when she was groomed by a man she was speaking to online who was posing as a teenage girl. The girl was later pressured into sending naked pictures of herself, which soon found their way onto Facebook.
A police investigation traced the Facebook page back to a man who had been targeting others too.
The mum said: “I didn’t know much about BlackBerry or social media at the time so I didn’t feel able to give her advice about how to keep herself safe online before it happened. She’d say ‘I’m talking to so and so’ and I didn’t think for a minute that they might not be who they said they were.”
Her daughter started to receive abusive messages from bullies which eventually forced both of them to move away from their home after taunts from other children became unbearable.
Lawrence Orme, senior supervisor at Childline Nottingham said: “Young people may not understand what is right or wrong in a relationship, or what to do if something makes them feel uncomfortable, online or offline. ‘Listen to your Selfie’ is aimed at helping young people recognise signs they are being manipulated.”