Children let down by law that allows internet grooming

The MP Sarah Champion says police need better tools to catch predators

Children who are targeted by adults for online sexual grooming are not being protected by the law, a leading MP has warned.

Current legislation contains “a loophole” that means police need to prove a groomer has contacted the victim twice, hindering attempts to tackle child exploitation, according to Sarah Champion.

The Labour MP, who chaired a parliamentary inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children online, said officers had told her this was “the single biggest obstacle for authorities trying to prosecute abusers”.

The nature of grooming has changed, according to Cassandra Harrison, assistant director at Barnados, who said online abusers now use a “scattergun approach”. They contact hundreds of children at once on social networks, in the hope that a handful will respond.

“The law needs to be changed to reflect that so that on first contact, if police catch a person grooming a child for sex they can act and it will be a crime, as is already the case in Scotland,” Ms Harrison said.

Earlier this year Tim Storey, who is separated from his wife, an Oxford-educated lawyer, escaped with a three-year rehabilitation order after setting up a fake Facebook profile and persuading girls as young as 12 to film themselves naked.

Ms Champion, who ran a Children’s hospice before becoming a Labour MP 18 months ago, spoke to police officers, judges, and social workers during her inquiry. “I’m hugely concerned about the devastating effect the internet, specifically porn and on-line chat rooms, is having on young people,” she said.

“Abused children are trying to find out if what is happening to them is normal. They see abusive porn on the internet and accept that it must be normal. Without statutory sex education, now children find out what is normal in a relationship [through the internet], and they are finding very graphic pornography.”

One of witnesses at the inquiry had been groomed from a very young age and then sexually exploited. “She didn’t think it was right but couldn’t speak to her mother and was scared to report what was happening, so she went online and saw bondage and [violent sexual imagery] and thought, ‘this is normal that gangs of men rape women’. It justified what the abusers were doing to her. She kept quiet for another few years,” Ms Champion warned.

She said the key was to instil in children a sense of their rights as individuals. “The right to say no, what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. To help them – if at a young age they are approached and groomed – to know it is not acceptable behaviour and that they have right to do something about it.

When it came to victims, there was “very much a model”, Ms Champion said.

“Normally these are children who are quite socially excluded. We spoke to one young lad who came out at 12 and his parents disowned him and his friends disowned him. The perpetrators [who abused him] realised he was vulnerable and they stepped in.

“The next stage is to ply [these children] with drugs and alcohol, and more upsettingly, ply them with love. They’ll say, ‘Don’t tell your parents, they don’t love you. We love you’. The vile abuse and trafficking then starts.”

Case study: A horrible feeling

Alfie is one of three boys. Aged 13, he is on the autistic spectrum and emotionally “immature”, so when he joined Facebook, his dad, Pete Goulding, was wary. “We couldn’t exclude him from it, it’s such a big part of the social process. So I’ve always monitored his profile,” he said.

Mr Goulding noticed a character called Lily Matthews who had “popped up” among his son’s friends. “I didn’t take too much notice to start with.” Then the messages started to get “more frequent and more risqué. Lily started to ask: ‘Do you fancy camera sex?’

“I wanted to balance protecting Alfie and letting him have some normality. He sounded nervous and made up reasons why he couldn’t do it. Sometimes he would ignore the requests, they would come back.” At this point, alarm bells rang. “I started looking into this Lily, and saw she had a few friends but only ones associated with Alfie, and she only had one profile picture. What 13- or 14-year-old has no pictures of themselves with their friends?”

When Lily asked to meet up, Mr Goulding confronted his son and then called the police, who said gleaning information from big social networks based outside Britain would not be easy. “Eventually, they found out the account was set up outside the EU, but said, ‘Unfortunately there is little we can do.’ It is a horrible feeling for a parent,” Mr Goulding concluded. “But the most important thing is Alfie knows it wasn’t his fault, and now we know to stay vigilant.”

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
i100
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and no-one was arrested

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Voices
The number of children in relative income poverty is currently 2.3 million in the UK
voices

Environment
A Brazilian wandering spider
natureIt's worth knowing for next time one appears in your bananas
Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink

Sport
football

Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday

Life and Style
The final 12 acts will be facing Simon Cowell, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Mel B and Louis Walsh tonight
fashion

The X Factor's judges colourful outfit was mocked by Simon Cowell

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Software Developer

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

    Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

    £35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

    Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

    Senior Change Engineer (Windows, Linux, VMWare) - London £35k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past