Coronavirus: Abusers target children online in lockdown

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Thames Valley Police received 64 reports in March compared to 26 for the same month in 2019

A police force has said reports of online child sexual abuse have increased due to criminals targeting minors during the coronavirus lockdown.

Thames Valley Police said it had received 64 reports in March compared to 26 for the same month in 2019.

Det Ch Insp Matt Darnell urged parents and carers to "have a conversation" with children about their online activities and privacy settings.

He said any child could become a victim both of strangers or people they know.

Mr Darnell said the signs of abuse could be hard to spot, with changes to a child's behaviour being "mistakenly attributed to the change of circumstance or routine in which we all find ourselves".

"We would say [to parents and carers] trust your instinct, you know your children better than anyone."

The detective said signs to look out for were changes in behaviour which may include a child becoming very secretive, distracted, withdrawn or protective around their social media.

"Those they are speaking to online may not be who they say they are and they can leave themselves vulnerable to those who will manipulate and groom children into what they feel is a trusting relationship," he said.

Det Ch Insp Darnell added the social distancing restrictions due to Covid-19 had "not had any impact on the police's ability to respond to this crime type".

He said: "These are extraordinary times, but our message remains the same as always: if you attempt to exploit children on the internet, you will be caught, brought to justice and will face severe consequences for your actions."

Thames Valley Police has encouraged to look at online resources from the National Crime Agency and Thinkuknow websites.

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