The rate of teenage girls reporting sexual assaults related to online dating has nearly doubled, according to new figures.
A review by the National Crime Agency (NCA) highlighted this increase, while overall levels of these offenses have remained relatively stable since 2015.
Over the same period, the proportion of reports from girls aged 19 and under rose from 12% to 22%, with boys in this bracket rising from 25% to 31%.
The NCA’s Serious Crimes Analysis Section (SCAS) reviewed data from 671 sexual assault cases after an initial face-to-face encounter after initial contact through an online dating website or app.
This review covering the period from April 1, 2003 to March 21, 2021 updated the findings of a 2016 NCA report that reviewed 163 cases identified between April 2003 and July 2015.
It revealed that the largest proportion of male and female victims were still between the ages of 20 and 29, accounting for 40% of cases.
The victims in 83% of the 671 cases were women and 17% were men.
Only offenses in the SCAS databases were analyzed and the figures did not include unreported incidents or offenses that the police force had not sent to the ANC for review.
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Louise Vesely-Shore, Senior Analyst for the SCAS team, said: “While there has been no overall increase in these offenses since our initial report in 2016, it is noteworthy that this form of crime continued during the pandemic despite substantial restrictions on people’s lives.
“Anyone who meets online should be aware of the potential dangers, so they can be better prepared and make the choices that are right for them.
“We want people to protect themselves when meeting someone in person for the first time, as well as to deter potential offenders from committing these types of crimes.”
There was an overall reduction in all types of offenses reported to SCAS during the pandemic, the NCA added, but online dating incidents appeared to be less affected.
In the 2020/21 financial year, the SCAS investigated nearly 10 times more cases of internet dating sex offenses than fake taxi driver sex offences.
The NCA is working with academics at the University of Birmingham to further explore the impact of the pandemic on foreign sex offenses generally.