Liz Truss MP, the Justice Secretary announced yesterday, 19 March 2017, that she is acting to bring in a new offence of sexual communication with a child.

The offence will offer greater protection to children and young people from sexual communications than that which currently exists, and greater prosecution of adults who groom children. The offence will cover online and offline communications, including on social media, via email, and letters. Perpetrators of this offence will face up to two years in prison and will be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register automatically.

In her statement yesterday, Ms Truss said:

“In a world of mobile phones and social media, our children are ever more vulnerable to those who prey on their innocence and exploit their trust.

This new offence will help to us tackle the early stages of grooming, and nip in the bud those targeting children online or through text messages. My message is clear – any sexual communication with a child could see you behind bars.”

Under s.67 the Serious Crime Act 2015, it will be a criminal offence for anyone aged 18 or older to intentionally communicate with a child under 16 years old, where the person acts for a sexual purpose and the communication is sexual, or intended to illicit a sexual response. The new offence will come into effect on 3 April 2017.

This is a welcome change to the current legal position, in which sexualised communications which are text-based only, are not a criminal offence, unless combined with an attempt to meet a child. The acts of taking, possessing or circulating or exchanging indecent images of children are already criminal offences.

This change will go some way to protecting children more in the modern age of communication, and will give the police more powers to take action, hopefully preventative action, before an escalation of offences through grooming can occur.