Derbyshire’s specialist child exploitation charity Safe and Sound has joined thousands of organisations across Europe to highlight the potential dangers of the internet – particularly for children and young people.
Safer Internet Day (Tuesday 6 February 2024) aims to encourage everyone to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively and this year the focus is on the importance of age-appropriate digital services, with every child protected, empowered and respected online.

Safe and Sound is a highly-regarded local charity which specialises in protecting and supporting young people and their families across Derbyshire whose lives are affected by child exploitation including online grooming, sexual exploitation, County Lines, trafficking, modern slavery and radicalisation. It is supporting Safer Internet Day due to the growing prevalence of criminals using the internet to groom children and young people for their own purposes.

Safe and Sound CEO Tracy Harrison explained: “The latest national statistics show that there has been an 82% 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 during that time, which means that literally hundreds of children and young people in Derbyshire have been targeted by predators. “Last year, Safe and Sound supported a record 343 children and young people who had been victims of or at risk of child exploitation and, in the vast majority of cases, the grooming and abuse started online.”

Mrs Harrison continued that online grooming could involve young people 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.

“Furthermore, most people think that online grooming takes place on traditional social media channels but researchers have identified 150 different apps, games and websites being used to target children.” “Online grooming has therefore had a devastating effect on the lives of too many young people and their wider families and we need to do all we can to protect them. “Organisations such as ourselves who are committed to protecting and supporting children and young people who are at risk or are victims of child exploitation and I welcome the annual Safer Internet Day which highlights the need for the robust action to keep young people safe online.

“I particularly appeal to families to 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 so please have open and honest discussions about who they are talking to online and that not everybody is who they seem.”

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