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IWF warns of disturbing new trend of online sexual predators targeting siblings

A disturbing new trend, whereby online predators are targeting children and tricking them into abusing their own siblings and friends, has been revealed by The Internet Watch Foundation.

A new study published ahead of the IWF annual report reveals how internet sex predators are targeting children to have them abuse their siblings and friends, as well as themselves, on camera. The trend is eight times worse than experts had feared.

Chief Executive of the IWF, Susie Hargreaves OBE, said: “This tactic is emerging as a disturbing new trend in offender behaviour, and we know the youngest children are the most vulnerable, and often disproportionately suffer the worst kinds of abuse.

“Predators are now not only using the internet to contact, coerce, and abuse children – they are now using those children to get to other victims. Abuse often takes place in children’s own bedrooms, when parents think children are safe – playing with their siblings,” she added.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is the UK-based charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of children suffering sexual abuse from the internet.

IWF analysts carried out a snapshot study of the three months between September 28 and December 23 which found predators tricking children into involving other children, either siblings or friends, in the abuse. The study showed:

• 511 self-generated child sexual abuse images and videos assessed in this period were determined to involve siblings.

• This equates to eight images or videos each working day.

• In 65% of cases, one or both children engaged in direct sexual contact with the other.

The analysts said it is clear that these children were manipulated or coerced into sexual activity by adults online via a live stream and that these videos and snapshots were subsequently shared widely using a variety of different web platforms.

Some of these adults were posing as other children and sometimes the abuse would take the form of a game or ‘dare’ with no evidence that the children had any understanding of the sexual nature of what they were doing.

The data showed that:

- 46% of this material was Category A content showing the most severe forms of child sexual abuse. Category A material can involve penetrative sexual activity, sexual activity with an animal, or sadism.

- 24% was determined to contain Category B material.

- 30% of the material was deemed to be Category C.

There are fears this new trend may indicate predators are actively seeking to abuse more children this way.

When analysts were asked to look into the issue, it had been expected they may see this kind of abuse once a day. However, the figures show analysts actually see sibling self-generated abuse imagery on average eight times a day.

Children as young as three years old appeared to be involved in abuse. The average age of the youngest sibling was 10 and the eldest 12. While in the majority of cases with two children, one was slightly older, there were some instances of more significant age differences of up to five years or more.

Ms Hargreaves added: “The scale of the abuse has been particularly shocking. We know each image is a crime scene, and that all the children are real children.

“To see them coerced and bullied by dangerous predators into then abusing other children is beyond heart-breaking.

“If parents think their children are safe because they are inside the house, they need to know they are not. Predators can approach children and strike up a conversation using internet connected devices without parents even being aware,” she concluded.

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