Adults have been caught meeting children after sexual grooming more than 75 times in Sussex in the last five years, yet police don’t have the power to intervene earlier.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is calling on the Government to bring in anti-grooming legislation that was created two years ago but is not yet in force.
A loophole in the law means that adults cannot be arrested or prosecuted for sending sexual messages to children but not meeting them, the charity says.
Adults have met children in Sussex following sexual grooming 76 times since April 2012, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Numbers of adults meeting children after grooming them nationally has more than tripled in five years, the data says.
Police recorded 1,122 offences of meeting a child following sexual grooming in the year to September 2016, up from 345 in 2010-11.
But despite this sharp increase in abusers meeting up with young people they have groomed, police do not have the power to intervene much sooner, despite a law enacted to achieve this.
Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 makes it illegal for an adult to send a sexual communication to a child.
But two years later the law has not been given a start date, the NSPCC says.
One 15-year-old child contacted the NSPCC after she received sexual messages from a friend of her father.
Molly, not her real name, said: “Gavin added me as a friend on Facebook and I didn’t think anything of it as he was friends with my brother and my dad too and we often saw his family.
“He got my telephone number off Facebook and started texting me too.”
Gavin started telling Molly she was pretty and that he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
She added: “His messages started to get more sexual too and he would tell me he was talking to me from his bed. One morning he told me that he was masturbating while thinking about me. It was gross as he knew how young I was.
“I think a change in the law would help a lot of young people who are receiving sexual messages from adults,” she said.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “It is an utter disgrace that more and more sexual predators are meeting children after grooming them – but they cannot be arrested for grooming.
“Police are having to rely on other offences which means that they can’t intervene until a later stage in the abuse – which in some tragic cases is too late.
“The Government’s two-year delay in bringing this law into force is shameful, and unexplained. We urge the Government to enact this law immediately to stop sex abuse before it starts.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Sexual communication with a child is abhorrent, which is why the government legislated to make it a specific offence.
“As the Secretary of State made clear in the House of Commons this week, she is looking to make an announcement imminently.”
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