- Total of 1,642 cases since 2009 where sites were involved in offences
- Number of crimes has soared from 139 a year to 614 over that period
- Over half of the 1,395 victims of all offences except rape were under 16
Sex offences linked to Facebook and Twitter have more than quadrupled over the last four years, worrying new figures revealed today.
A total of 1,642 cases where the social networking sites were used to commit a crime or were involved in some way afterwards have been reported to police since 2009.
The number of cases each year soared from 139 to 614 over that period, while the number of alleged rapes has risen from 22 to 117.
Worrying: Sex offences linked to Facebook and Twitter have more than quadrupled over the last four years as pedophiles increasingly use the site to target young girls and vulnerable women (file picture posed by model)
Disturbingly, the data reveals that paedophiles are increasingly using the sites to target children.
More than half of the 1,395 victims of all offences except rape were under the age of 16, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show.
Some victims only realised they had been abused after reading boastful messages left on Facebook by their attackers.
A senior police officer told the Daily Mirror that predators are exploiting personal information online to identify and groom vulnerable women.
Online dangers: Teenager Ashleigh Hall (left) was murdered in October 2009 after secretly arranging to meet a stranger posing as a teenager who turned out to be Peter Chapman (right)
The officer said: ‘We know that some sex offenders will wander the streets looking for vulnerable people late at night.
‘But there is absolutely no reason to think they won’t spend time online doing exactly the same.’
The figures, released by 25 police forces across England and Wales, show the majority of offences involve Facebook.
Among the most shocking and high-profile was the case of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall, who was lured to her death after meeting a stranger on the site in 2010.
The teenager believed she was she was going to meet a boy of 16 whom she had befriended, but he turned out to be 36-year-old Peter Chapman.
Her body was found at the side of a secluded country road in Sedgefield, County Durham, known locally as a lovers’ lane.
Chapman was jailed for 35 years.
Afterwards, Ashleigh’s mother, Andrea, spoke of the ‘terrible lesson’ she had learned and calls for stricter controls online.
She begged other parents: ‘Tell your kids to be careful on the internet.
‘Don’t meet someone without telling your family where you are going.
‘Don’t trust anybody and don’t put your children on Facebook or other sites if they are underage. We have learned a terrible lesson.’
Facebook is believed to be used by millions of British schoolchildren.
Under current terms and conditions, under-13s are not allowed t hold a Facebook account account, while those between 13 and 18 are given protection about what details they can post.
But it is easy to circumvent these rules.
Facebook and Twitter have not yet responded to a request from MailOnline for comment.
In January, new fears about the effect Facebook could have on children arose after it emerged that prostitutes have been using the site to advertise their services.
While it has always been difficult to avoid adverts for prostitutes in sites such as phone boxes, the rise of social networking has made it even easier to access explicit content.
The pages, which can be created by anyone and do not require approval by the sites’ management, provide details such as addresses, phone numbers, prices and the specific services.
A ‘very dangerous and predatory’ teenager was jailed last year after sexually abusing four girls he met on Facebook.
Ryan Chambers, pictured, amassed the names and phone numbers of more than 1,000 girls aged between 12 and 15 years by making flattering remarks about their profile pictures on the social networking site.
The 19-year-old would bombard the girls with chat up lines in the hope they would ‘rise to the bait’ before inviting them round to the flat where he lived alone and have consensual sex with them.
He was found guilty of eight counts of sexual activity with a child, involving four girls, after a two-and-a-half week trial and was jailed yesterday.
They also found four videos on his mobile phone of oral sex with two of the victims.
He was jailed for three years and nine months in May last year.
by Simon Tomlinson Mail Online