CHILDREN are being messaged through Instagram in more than 70 per cent of sexual grooming crimes recorded by Thames Valley Police.

The figures, obtained by child protection charity NSPCC through a Freedom of Information request, have revealed that sexual grooming crimes have soared by 140 per cent in the Thames Valley.

The number of children who are under 16 and are being targeted through Facebook-owned social media apps like messenger, Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram is also at an all-time high.

The new crime, under section 15a of the sexual offences act – which came into force two years ago – covers sexual communications with a child.

The crime happens when an somebody who is 18-year-old (or older) intentionally messages somebody legally underage (under 16) for sexual gratification.

They might also encourage the child to be sexual over the chat.

More Thames Valley Police stories:

In the 12-months leading up to April 2019, 274 crimes where an adult had been sexually contacting a child were recorded by the force.

Of those, social media had been used in at least 154 of the instances – with Instagram being used in 72 per cent of the crimes and groomers using Snapchat and Facebook for around 26 of the crimes.

The year before in 2017 to 2018, 114 crimes were recorded.

When police had noted an age of the victim, it showed that around one in five were 11-years-old and younger.

The worrying figures also translate across the whole of the UK, with more than 7,500 crimes of the same nature being recorded by the 43 police forces in the last two years of the new offence coming into action.

A spokesman for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said: "There is no place for grooming or child exploitation on our platforms and we use technology to proactively find and quickly remove it.

"We also investigate reports from the community with a content and security team of over 30,000 people who respond to reports 24/7."