WATCH: Cary Johnston reports on the challenges in tackling online abuse during lockdown
Police forces have issued a warning about a spike in reported cases of online child abuse since the coronavirus lockdown began.
Detectives at Thames Valley Police say they've seen a 147% increase of reports of abuse in March compared to the same period last year.
Police chiefs say "this kind of offending will never be tolerated" and perpetrators will "face severe consequences."
Thames Valley Police says that as children are spending more time online during lockdown, criminals are using the circumstances to exploit children.
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Darnell said: “Many young people are incredibly computer literate, have their own smart devices and games consoles and will be using the internet to stay in touch with friends whilst we all stay at home.
"But, those they are speaking to online may not be who they say they are and they can leave themselves vulnerable to those who will manipulateand groom children into what they feel is a trusting relationship."
Forces are asking parents and carers to make use of resources on the National Crime Agency's thinkuknow website to teach children about the risks of going online.
Det Ch Insp Darnell said: “I also urge you to have a conversation with your children about privacy settings and ensure that they are secure on the apps and social networks that they are using.
“People who attempt to exploit children on line are very serious criminals, and we want to send a message to them that this type of offending will never be tolerated."
The NSPCC says more than 5,000 people have got in touch to raise concerns about the welfare of a child since lockdown began.
NSPCC CEO, Peter Wanless, said: “Coronavirus is presenting us with a number of huge challenges, one of which is how we keep children safe when so much of everyday life is going on behind closed doors.“It is crucial that all of us in society recognise we have a role to play in looking out for thoseyoung people for whom home may not always be the safest place."
The charity has been given £1.6 million by the government, to help it maintain support services and helplines during the pandemic.
If you have concerns about the welfare of a child, you can email the NSPCC 24 hours a day - firstname.lastname@example.org - or you can use their website.
Alternatively you can call 0808 8005000 Monday to Friday 8am to 10pm or 9am to 6pm at weekends to speak with one of their experts.
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