CLOSE to 700 reports of online abuse against women in Cumbria have been reported in the last four years.

And according to the shock report from Amnesty International UK, the figure of reports logged by police in the county could be as high as 839.

The news has prompted grave warnings of the dangers of social media and a call by MP Tim Farron for immediate Government action.

“These findings are incredibly worrying," said the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP.

“Social media companies are failing in their duties to protect women from disgusting online abuse and the Government need to start getting tough on them until they act.”

And Lesley Storey of the Safety Net group, which works to help those who have suffered rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence, said the dangers were often underestimated.

"Abuse and violence in the digital world is every bit as serious, threatening and harmful to its victims yet is often not viewed as such," she said.

"Online violence and abuse is widespread and whilst it is not limited to women and girls, young women in particular face high levels of intimidation online.

"Social media platforms can be a lifeline for young women, easing social isolation, building friendship networks offering support, connection to events and activities. In rural areas like Cumbria, this is vital.

"However there is a dark and destructive force potentially at play as abusers use social media platforms to target victims, threaten and harass.

"Stalking, hacking of social media sites, posting of abusive messages and images are all taking place and the psychological impact on victims should not be underestimated."

The Amnesty International UK report found close to 65,000 police reports of online abuse had been filed nationally in less than four years.

In Cumbria, 667 reports had been received from women, but another 172 reports had also been filed in which the gender had not been specified, meaning the total could be as high as 839.

The figures follow an earlier Amnesty report which found one in five women polled in the UK had suffered online abuse or harassment with more than a quarter saying the abuse threatened sexual or physical assault.

Pointing out that the poll also found fewer than one in 10 British women think Twitter is doing enough to stop online violence and abuse, Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen called for the social media platform to take immediate action.

“These police figures make it patently clear that social media can be an incredibly toxic and dangerous place for women," she said.

“Thousands of women are feeling so threatened by online violence and abuse that they’re having to ask the police for help, and these figures are likely to just scratch the surface of what is a much larger problem."

However, Ms Storey stressed that there was hope for those targeted and said Safety Net was doing as much as possible to assist.

"Here at SafetyNetUK we are working with victims of all forms of trauma providing therapeutic support to assist people to recover from abuse," she said.

"If you are a victim of online abuse or have a friend, child or family member this is happening to, please take this seriously."

If you need to contact Safety Net, call 01228 515859 during office hours or 0808 1186 432 outside office hours.

In an emergency, call the police on 999.