01:40PM, Friday 01 May 2020
Detective chief inspector Matt Darnell
Thames Valley Police is working with parents and youngsters to educate them about the dangers of online child sexual abuse.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has reported a huge spike in Thames Valley cases as referrals increased from 26 in March 2019 to 64 in March 2020.
This represents a 146 per cent increase when compared to last year.
As the country remains in lockdown, children are spending more time online as they look to stay in touch with friends and loved ones and keep themselves entertained.
But Thames Valley Police said it is aware that some criminals are using these circumstances as a way to exploit and target young people when they are online.
Speaking to the Advertiser, Detective Chief Inspector Matt Darnell of the Thames Valley Police Protecting Vulnerable People unit, said online abuse is 'experienced worldwide’.
“My advice to parents is to trust their instincts,” said Det Ch Insp Darnell.
“Have they (children) become secretive, withdrawn, don’t say much, having mood swings, distracted, protective over social media?”
Online sexual abuse is any type of sexual abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, online gaming or using mobile phones. In some cases this involves children being groomed or exploited by an adult.
Det Ch Insp Darnell issued advice to children and teenagers on how to keep themselves safe online.
“If you are speaking to people online make sure you know who you are speaking to,” he added.
“Don’t be afraid to come forward, you won’t be in trouble.”
He also encouraged families to use parental controls on children’s devices to help keep them safe.
Websites such as thinkuknow.co.uk, internetmatters.org and the Stop It Now - Lucy Faithfull Foundation offer guidance to parents on how to educate children of all ages about online sexual abuse.
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