A record high number of children were abused after contact via social media last year, with the vast majority becoming victims of underage sex or child pornography.
There were 1,421 recorded cases of children aged 17 or younger who fell victim to crime via social networking services, or 128 more than a year earlier, the National Police Agency reported Thursday.
That’s the highest figure since 2008 when the NPA started a tally, the agency said.
“The Internet is often regarded as virtual reality, but in fact it is strongly linked with the real world,” said Yoshihiko Fujikawa, 40, director of the independent Content Evaluation and Monitoring Association, which keeps tabs on sites designed for mobile use.
“It is essential that users are aware of social norms,” Fujikawa said.
Of the total, 1,118 or 78.7 percent fell victim after using social media on their smartphones. An NPA official said the ubiquitous devices need to be used carefully.
Of the total, 1,329 people, or 93.5 percent, became victims of crimes violating an ordinance on the protection of minors or laws regarding child prostitution and pornography.
The others were victims of felony crimes such as murder and rape. They included a 17-year-old high school student who was murdered last May in Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, by a man she met on a social networking site.
By age, the largest number of victims were 17-year-olds, at 340, followed by 16-year-olds, at 338, and 15-year-olds, at 304, according to the agency.
The number of minors victimized via Internet messaging services such as the popular app called Line totaled 439, up 87 from the previous year. The number was higher in the first half of the year, which saw 262 reports.
Meanwhile, the number of victims in crimes involving online dating sites was 152, a slight fall of seven from the previous year, following the introduction of tightened regulations for those sites.
The online dating site regulation act, which aims to protect children from underage sex initiated by online contact, was enacted in 2003 and amended in 2008.
The NPA said that in most cases victims were not warned by their parents regarding the risks of social networking services. However, many had been alerted to potential online dangers by their school teachers.
Operators of social media services have been stepping up protections for children, a development the NPA singled out for praise.
It said operators of services like Line or Kakao Talk, both multiplatform texting apps that allow smartphone, tablet and computer users to chat for free, have taken steps to prevent users from sharing their identification codes on online bulletin boards.
The NPA has been urging operators of social media platforms to introduce filtering options to segregate minors from older users and to prevent their interaction.
It also wants to make children more aware of the risks, through cooperation with education authorities and volunteer organizations.