A new offence of sexual communication has been introduced this week in an effort to crack down on child grooming before sexual abuse.

Groomers who target children through both online and offline channels (including social media, e-mail and letters) will now face up to two years in prison. If found guilty, they’ll automatically be placed on the sex offenders register.

The offence bridges a gap in existing legislation and will mean that authorities, like the police, are able to intervene earlier in cases of child grooming, before sexual abuse starts.

According to estimates by the Children’s Commissioner, 1.3 million children currently living in England will have been sexually abused by the time they turn 18.

Last month the government announced that sex and relationships education would be made compulsory in schools in England — an important step towards improving children’s understanding of healthy relationships and teaching them how to recognise risks and make safer choices. Pupils will also be taught about the dangers of sexting, online pornography and sexual harassment.

There’s still more that can be done to protect children at risk of sexual abuse. Professional bodies in health, education and social care should ensure staff working with children and young people are trained and supported to identify signs of victimisation — protecting and supporting more children at risk.

Get support

If you or someone you know have been affected by abuse or grooming, Victim Support can provide free and confidential support.

Find out more about child grooming, including some early warning signs, on You & Co, our website for children and young people.