The NSPCC has obtained figures that show the internet was used by offenders to commit more than 3,000 sex crimes against children last year.
Within the East Midlands, the figures showed that:
- 292 incidents were the internet was used by offenders to commit sex crimes against children
- Those results from Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire are part of more than 3,100 recorded nationally
2015/2016 was the first year that police were required to record, or 'cyber-flag' any sexual crime against a child that involved the use of the internet. The NSPCC says the numbers highlight a worrying trend, with an average of eight crimes a day being recorded.
The offences, which were reported to 38 police forces in England and Wales in 2015/2016, included sexual assaults, grooming victims before meeting them, inciting children to take part in a sex act and over 100 rapes.
Most victims were 13 year olds, but there were 272 victims under ten and the youngest was a one-year- old baby.
'Charlotte' (not her real name) received help from the NSPCC's Protect and Respect service in Nottingham.
This is her story:
"When I was 15 I was feeling really low and lonely. I found it difficult to mix with people and I wasn't sure why. I'd been bullied at school because people thought I was different and I spent a lot of timeon my own. I was later diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and this helped me understand why I found it hard to make friends.
I used to go online a lot and often used Blackberry messenger (BB). I enjoyed making new friends online as I found it easier than talking to people face to face and it made me feel less lonely. I used to add people that I didn't know and I'd never had any problems before.
I got a BB request from a girl I didn't know and added her. I don't know how she got my number but I had previously put my BB number on Facebook asking people to add me. We talked quite a lot for a few days about general things and built up a friendship.
After a couple of days the conversation turned. She kept asking and asking for me to send her a naked picture. I wasn't very confident and was more likely to do something like that without questioning the reason why so I just sent her one without thinking about it.
She kept asking for more. When I said no she threatened to put the ones she had on Facebook. I was scared as I didn't want my friends and family to see it.
I didn't hear anything for a couple of days so I didn't think she was going to do anything with it but then I heard that she'd set up a group under my name with the naked picture of me on. I wasn't friends with her on Facebook but because she'd put my name in the group name, anyone who searched for me found it.
I got lots of messages from people saying they'd seen it and most of the messages were really nasty. A lot of them said things like 'You're a slag', and because I heard it so much I believed it.
She took the photo down a couple of days later so I thought it was all over. But she had sent the picture to a family member too who she had also added on BB and it got back to my mum. She was upset and angry. She wanted to know who the person was and she reported it to the police.
Someone from the Sexual Exploitation Investigation Unit came round and took a statement from me.
The police started an investigation and contacted Facebook and traced the page back to a man who had been doing it to other people too. It made me feel even worse knowing that it was a man that had done that to me. The BB messages had a female's name and picture on it and I didn't even question that it could be someone else and not the person who they said they were.
I was bullied a lot and had to move from my area, school and home to escape it. We think the man also tried to contact me on whats app as I had a message asking me why I had contacted the police.
Not long after that a man called Liam added me on Facebook. We started talking a lot and the conversation was really friendly. He was saying that I should call him and go and meet him. He turned the conversation sexual and then started saying that I should have phone sex with him. I didn't and Im glad because the police later told is it was the same man who had tricked me before.
When we first went to the police they contacted social care. They put extra support in place for my parents and referred me to the NSPCC for help in protecting myself from grooming. I was nervous as I didn't know what to expect from the NSPCC but I found the Protect and Respect programme really helpful. I used to think that what happened to me was all my fault but they helped me to realise that it wasn't.
We looked at grooming and staying safe online and now I don't add people on Facebook who I don't know. I'm more careful about what information I share online and wouldn't put my phone number online now."