The internet was used as a gateway by dozens of adults in Scotland to target young children with indecent communications last year, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC.
Police Scotland recorded a rise of 60 per cent in indecent communications recorded under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 between adults and children aged under 13.
The number of offences recorded rose from 103 in 2013-14 to 165 in 2014-15.
In 2010 when the law first came into effect in Scotland there were only 15 recorded offences.
The law makes it an offence for a person to send a sexual written or verbal communication to a child.
The figures are revealed as the NSPCC launches its state of the UK annual report ‘How Safe Are Our Children?’ at the charity’s annual conference in London.
With more young children using social media, the NSPCC is urging police forces across the UK to ensure all officers understand how sex offenders abuse the internet to carry out crimes against children, and how to investigate and record such crimes effectively.
Matt Forde, head of service for NSPCC Scotland, said: “These figures confirm our fears that the internet is playing an increasing role in the sexual abuse of younger children in Scotland and across the UK as a whole.
“We welcome efforts by Police Scotland to tackle online sexual abuse. These figures show an increasing number of crimes are coming to the attention of the police and are being investigated. However, more needs to be done.
“We know grooming is on the rise because children are in ever greater numbers telling our ChildLine service how they are being targeted online. But behind these figures will be other children who have not reported these indecent communications from adults who contact them.
“Children of any age can contact ChildLine in total confidence at any time day or night to talk about any fears that they may have.
“But the key to protecting children is the provision of high-quality, age appropriate healthy relationships education across the curriculum.
“We need to ensure that we give children and young people the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices and stay safe.”
Over the past year ChildLine across the UK held 10,067 counselling sessions carried out with children whose main concern was sexual abuse/online sexual abuse.
This accounted for 43 per cent of all abuse-related main concerns.
Last year also saw 1392 counselling sessions where sexting was mentioned.
According to cases received by the NSPCC-run helpline, younger children are increasingly at threat of harm from predatory adults, who often pose as children to try to make contact.
Such contact can lead to emotional pressure, threats and blackmail to perform sexual acts on webcams and phones.
One 13-year-old girl who contacted ChildLine said: “I was being groomed online by men and it went on for years. Then people started finding out and getting involved. They didn’t know the full extent but I spoke to the police.
“When they questioned me I felt so ashamed so I didn’t tell them the full story. I feel like such a coward. I tried to kill myself recently because it’s constantly on my mind.”
Matt Forde has also called for children who have experienced online sexual abuse to be offered counselling and other therapies to help their recovery.
He said: “The emotional impact of being targeted online is a very real concern for young children in Scotland and we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment that there will be more funding available for child mental health services.
“But support must be available to every child who has endured abuse before they hit a crisis point – as we are calling for through our It’s Time campaign.”
If an adult is worried about a child they can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 in confidence.