Child abuse victims in South Yorkshire are increasingly being groomed over the internet, a doctor has warned.
Dr Mohan Thomas, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist who works with victims and survivors in Rotherham, said he has noticed changing trends in the way grooming takes place.
Speaking at the Working Against Grooming conference in the town, Dr Thomas said: “What I’m seeing is more and more perpetrators are getting smarter.
“They are not using taxis to find victims, they are using the internet.
“As technology increases, the perpetrators get smarter.”
Dr Thomas said he first came across CSE cases around 25 years ago, with it originally mainly relating to children in care who ‘were not believed for various reasons’ and were receiving little help from the authorities.
But he said that around 2000 he ‘started to see a change in terms of victims’, with children from stable family backgrounds becoming abused.
South Yorkshire Police assistant chief constable Ingrid Lee also told the conference that the force recognised the challenge of dealing with the growing dangers of the internet.
She said: “When children are locked in their bedrooms, they are not necessarily safe.
“That is something we all have to be vigilant in relation to.”
ACC Lee also told the conference that the phrase ‘child sexual exploitation’ does not adequately describe such criminal acts.
“This is the rape of our children, it is the abuse of our children,” she said.
“It is being done by predatory criminals that are paedophiles - we should never ever forget that.”
The issue of internet grooming was also raised in last year’s report by Professor Alexis Jay.
She said: “Over time, methods of grooming have changed as mobile technology has advanced. Mobile phones, social networking sites and mobile apps have become common ways of identifying and targeting vulnerable children and young people and we heard concerns from local agencies in Rotherham that much younger children were being targeted in this way.
“A number of the recent case files we read demonstrated that by unguarded use of text and video messaging and social networking sites, children had unwittingly placed themselves in a position where they could be targeted, sometimes in a matter of days or hours, by sexual predators from all over the world.
“In a small number of cases, this led to direct physical contact, rape and sexual abuse with one or more perpetrators. The comment was made that grooming could move from online to personal contact very quickly indeed.
“One of the most worrying features is the ease with which young children aged from about eight to 10 years can be targeted and exploited in this way without their families being aware of the dangers associated with internet use.”