The NSPCC and paedophile hunter Cheyenne O’Connor, who work separately, say that the restrictions have created 'the perfect storm’ for offenders to groom children who are alone and often unsupervised online while off school.
Miss O’Connor, who poses as teenagers online to catch offenders, claims that in the last few weeks she has seen a dramatic rise in the number of parents contact her with concerns that their child may be being groomed.
And the NSPCC has said the lockdown has increased the risk of online abuse and has urged parents to speak to their children about their internet use.
Miss O’Connor said: ‘I have probably had 30 parents contact me in the last few weeks, whereas usually in that period of time I would have one or two.
‘Most online predators would normally have a job to go to and have other stuff to be doing during their day. But during lockdown they have just been sitting at home on their computers with nothing else to do. And the people they are after – the children – have been off school and spending more time online. It is a perfect storm.
‘I had half expected there to be an increase but this has really surprised me.’
Miss O’Connor’s warning came on the same day as the Met Police’s Online Child Abuse and Exploitation Unit revealed that 45 people had been arrested in relation to online sexual abuse and nearly 100 children protected in London during the first month of lockdown.
It warned that the number of children facing abuse online was likely to rise as the lockdown continues.
Miss O’Connor said the grooming cases she had been contacted about involved children aged between 11 and 15 using social-media sites such as Facebook and Snapchat, as well as the video messaging service Skype.
Many of the cases involve girls being contacted by older men and encouraged to share explicit images, said Miss O’Connor, who has so far helped to bring 24 online offenders to justice.
She is investigating some of the new cases and has already passed others on to the police.
Miss O’Connor, who has written an opinion article about how parents can help protect their children online (see page 9), said: ‘I really would urge parents to check what their children are doing online during lockdown. Parents sometimes feel that they don’t have control over their own children, but parents have a right to check their child’s phone.’
Meanwhile, an NSPCC Jersey spokesperson encouraged parents to speak to their children about the danger online and added: ‘The impact of the coronavirus lockdown has increased online risks and brewed a perfect storm for offenders to abuse children – they are targeting children who are now spending more time online and feeling lonely and cut off from support networks.
‘It is more important than ever for parents to have regular conversations with their children about what they’re doing online and to reassure them they can come to you with any worries.
‘It is also crucial that tech firms ramp up their response to reflect the ever-growing threat and set out clearly how they are prioritising their resources to protect children from abuse on their sites.’
Parents with concerns about their children’s activities online can visit net-aware.org.uk, a site co-created by the NSPCC.
Miss O’Connor has also written an online advice booklet which can be obtained by emailing email@example.com.