Councilor calls for strengthening of online security bill

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A ADVISER called for better monitoring of large social media companies to protect children, especially young girls, from online grooming.

New figures obtained via FOI suggest that girls are the victims of more than three-quarters of online grooming crimes in Essex.

Southend union adviser Matt Dent has joined with children’s charity NSPCC in calling on new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to strengthen the online safety bill’s proposals to ensure that girls are adequately protected from online sexual abuse.

Essex Police recorded 266 offenses in which an adult had sexual communication with a child under the age of 16 between July 2020 and March, according to an NSPCC information investigation.

The sex of the victim was recorded in 185 crimes – 145 (78%) of them were women and 40 were men.

The data also shows that where the age of the female victim was recorded, 98 were between 12 and 15 years old and 33 under 11 years old.

The Online Safety Bill aims to protect children online and remove harmful content. If the bill is passed by parliament, social media networks risk fines if they do not remove harmful content.

Cllr Dent said, “I have concerns about the online security bill. In my opinion, it’s not enough to require big social media companies to actually take action on harmful content and people online.

“So that is certainly a thorny question. Statistics in Essex show that we need to tackle this. The bill in its present form, in my opinion, is not enough.

“In terms of child protection, the Southend Council is working on this with Essex Police and other agencies and it is certainly something that we are grappling with, but realistically, to resolve this issue. , there needs to be national leadership and legal frameworks, which is currently lacking. ”

The NSPCC is also asking the government to step up the bill.

He said the online security bill, currently under scrutiny by MPs and peers, needs to be strengthened to prevent the grooming and spread of abuse between apps, disrupt abuse as early as possible and hold it to account. to senior executives.

Anna Edmundson, Policy Officer, said: “One of the main functions of the Online Safety Bill is to protect all children – including girls – when they go online.

“Now the new Culture Secretary has the opportunity to correct substantial weaknesses in the legislation so that he does so.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our new laws will be the most comprehensive in the world to protect children online.

“Failed companies will face heavy fines or have their sites blocked, and we will have the power to hold senior executives criminally responsible for failing to protect children.” ”

An Essex Police spokesperson added: ‘We have protected 316 children in the past 12 months.

“So far this year, we have identified 264 suspects. Over the past 12 months, we have obtained positive results for a total of 202 offenses.

“We work with schools and colleges across the county and our agents are integrated into all of these educational institutions.

“We are also doing joint training with teachers to prevent and detect this harmful crime.

“The officers of our Crime and Public Protection Command have specially trained investigators who are able to identify offenders and use proactive methods to stop them.

“We also urge parents and guardians to be very knowledgeable about the latest information and to talk to their children about the signs and risks.

“For more information, visit: https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/child-abuse-and-neglect/online-abuse.”

Essex Police tips for parents when talking to their kids about safety online:

  • encourage them to tell you about how they use the internet and show you what they do – make sure they know they can ask for your advice
  • have an agreement in place and set limits for their internet use, such as when and where they can use their devices and for how long
  • check the age groups that come with games, apps, movies, and social media to confirm if they’re suitable
  • activate parental controls on your home network and all devices, including mobile phones and game consoles
  • security settings can also be enabled on sites such as Google, YouTube and iPlayer
  • become familiar with the blocking and reporting features on all gaming sites and make sure they know how to use them too
  • make sure they are aware of the risks of sharing images online and that you both know how to remove content if you need to


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