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NSPCC and Hertfordshire police warn of danger of increased online child abuse during lockdown

Coronavirus has created a threefold "perfect storm" for abusers to groom children online by taking advantage of the crisis, according to the NSPCC.

The children's charity said that while tech firms have had to scale back on moderators who combat sexual abuse online, offenders are seeing an unprecedented opportunity to target children who are spending more time on the internet at home and might feel increasingly lonely or anxious because of the lockdown.

Andy Burrows, NSPCC's head of child safety online policy, said: "The impact of the coronavirus lockdown has increased online risks and brewed a perfect storm for offenders to abuse children.

Keeping your children safe on-line during the lockdown (33110296)
Keeping your children safe on-line during the lockdown (33110296)

"The public health emergency is creating major challenges across society and, like all of u,s tech firms must adapt. It's vital they set out how they are prioritising protecting children by identifying and disrupting offenders with fewer moderation resources available.

"Social media and gaming sites are proving to be a lifeline for parents and their children as they adapt to being at home, but we must also recognise there are heightened risks.

"It is more important than ever for parents to have regular conversations with their children about what they're doing online and to reassure them they can come to you with any worries."

That message is being reinforced by Hertfordshire Constabulary.

Det Sgt Marc Willmore, from the force's Halo – Safeguarding Vulnerable Children team, said: "We want to encourage parents and carers to look for signs of loneliness and isolation in children and young people which could cause them to engage with strangers online.

"Many children and young people, unable to engage face to face with their friends, will inevitably turn to communicating via messaging or social media platforms to keep in touch. Sometimes this can lead to them feeling negative about their own situation and increase feelings of isolation and loneliness. Feeling lonely could motivate children to engage online with new groups or individuals and this in turn could make them vulnerable to perpetrators of child abuse and exploitation."

Europol says there is "increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material".

For advice and support, contact the NSPCC helpline for free on 0808 800 5000 or see www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/reporting-abuse/what-if-suspect-abuse/. Children can contact Childline any time by calling 0800 1111 or chat with a counsellor online at www.childline.org.uk/get-support/1-2-1-counsellor-chat/.

For more advice on how to keep safe online visit www.herts.police.uk/Information-and-services/Advice/Child-sexual-exploitation.

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