Almost 300 crimes have been recorded in our region in the first year since a new anti-grooming law came into force, with the youngest child targeted aged just eight years old.

In Yorkshire and Humberside there were 297 offences, 147 of which were recorded by West Yorkshire Police.

Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were the top three most-recorded sites out of 80 different methods used in grooming offences.

In England and Wales 3,171 crimes were recorded by police in England and Wales – amounting to nine grooming offences per day.

The new crime of Sexual Communication with a Child came into force on April 3 2017.

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NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “These numbers are far higher than we had predicted and every single sexual message from an adult to a child can have a huge impact for years to come.

“Social networks have been self-regulated for a decade and it’s absolutely clear that children have been harmed as a result.

“I urge Digital Secretary Matt Hancock to follow through on his promise and introduce safety rules backed up in law and enforced by an independent regulator with fining powers.

“Social networks must be forced to design extra protections for children into their platforms, including algorithms to detect grooming to prevent abuse from escalating.”

Following the NSPCC’s #WildWestWeb campaign, Digital Secretary Matt Hancock announced that laws will be brought in to regulate social networks, to keep children safe and prevent harms such as grooming.

The charity is now campaigning to ensure those laws are sufficiently robust to prevent grooming and to truly keep children safe. It is calling on Government to:

Create mandatory safety rules that social networks are legally required to follow;

Establish an independent regulator to enforce safety laws and fine non-compliant sites

Require social media sites to publish annual safety reports;

Force platforms to develop technology to detect grooming using algorithms.

Police revealed which methods groomers used in 2,097 instances and records show Facebook was used in nearly 30% of those cases, while Snapchat and Instagram were each used in around a fifth of cases.

Where police disclosed the gender and age of the victim, girls aged 12-15 were recorded as being the victim in 62% of cases. And under-11s were recorded as the victim in nearly a quarter of cases.

Contact offences such as rape and sexual assault were among those recorded in connection with grooming offences.