Hundreds of child sex offences were committed using the internet in the Thames Valley area last year, according to a leading children's charity.

Figures obtained by the NSPCC show the internet was used to commit 183 child sex offences in the Thames Valley and thousands across England and Wales.

FOI requests to police forces in England and Wales have revealed that more than 5,600 child sex crimes committed against children had an online element that included rape, grooming, and sexual assault.

This number has risen by more than a third - 44% - from 2015/16 when requests to 39 forces recorded 3,903 cyber-related sexual offences.

The latest figures show police are recording an average of 15 internet-related sex crimes against children a day, highlighting a worrying trend in how predators are using the internet to target children.

For offences where age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim - 257 - but there were nearly 100 offences committed against children aged ten and under.

The youngest victim was just three-years-old.

The alarming statistics have prompted the NSPCC to call on the next government to make online safety a top priority amid warnings of increased internet exploitation:

  • An independent regulator to hold social media companies to account and fine them where they fail to protect children.
  • Government to draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet to safeguard children
  • Children to be automatically offered safer social media accounts, with default privacy settings, to protect them from harmful content and offenders who seek to prey on them.

The NSPCC is also urging police forces to ensure all officers understand how people use the web to prey on children, how to investigate such crimes, and effectively safeguard victims.

Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC said: “These figures confirm our fears that offenders are exploiting the internet to target children for their own dark deeds.

“Children also tell our Childline service that they are being targeted online by some adults who pose as children and try to meet them, or persuade them to perform sexual acts on webcams, before blackmailing them.

"This terrifies them and can leave some feeling worthless, depressed, and suicidal.

“We cannot idly sit by knowing that more and more innocent young people are being harmed online.

"Today’s worrying data leaves the next government with no choice but to urgently address this issue.

"We are calling on them to force internet companies and social media sites to adhere to rules that keep their young users safe.”