Organised “communities of sex predators” will be looking to take advantage of children being away from school and spending more time online to exploit more children and to share and distribute child sexual abuse material online.
The Internet Watch Foundation has reported processing record numbers of reports of online child sexual abuse and warned that predatory online groomers are a “grave and widespread threat” to children in their bedrooms.
Chief Executive of the IWF, Susie Hargreaves, said: “What was already a recognised phenomenon has now cemented into a grave and widespread threat to our children.
“This year, our analysts have warned there are whole online communities of sexual predators who devote themselves to finding and tracking down children on the internet, so as to bully and coerce them into abusing themselves sexually.
“These criminals can now groom a child who is in the apparent safety of their own bedroom, into making videos of the most serious kinds of abuse,” she added.
The IWF is the UK charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of child sexual abuse from the internet. It has seen a dramatic 77% increase in the amount of “self-generated” abuse material as more children, and more criminals, spent longer online in 2020.
The Coronavirus pandemic resulted in more people being forced to work and learn from home in 2020, and the IWF saw a surge in public reports to its hotline. As schools are now closed again in the latest national lockdown, experts are warning that predators will be looking to take advantage of the situation to exploit more children.
The IWF warns that:
- In 2020, IWF analysts processed 299,600 reports, including tip offs from members of the public. This is up from 260,400 reports in 2019 and is an increase of 15%.
- Of these reports, 153,350 were confirmed as containing images and/or videos of children being sexually abused, in comparison to 132,700 in 2019 - an increase of 16%.
- Of these, 68,000 reports were tagged as including “self-generated” child sexual abuse content – a 77% increase on 2019’s total of 38,400 reports.
- Self-generated content can include child sexual abuse content which has been created using webcams, very often in the child’s own room, and then shared online.
In some cases, children are groomed, deceived or extorted into producing and sharing a sexual image or video of themselves. Some videos contain Category A material – the most severe level of abuse which includes penetrative sexual activity.
Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins said: “The rise in self-generated indecent images of children is deeply concerning. Posting and sharing such images poses psychological harm to children, including feelings of distress and embarrassment.
“I am delighted that Home Office funding is being used to support the development of the IWF’s campaign to tackle youth-produced sexual imagery.
“This campaign will support parents in starting conversations with their children around keeping safe online and empowers young people to identify the signs of coercion and report abuse.”
The campaign, which is expected to launch in the spring, is funded by the IWF, the Home Office and the private sector.
MPs have launched a national inquiry into the rise of “self-generated” indecent images of children online. The APPG on Social Media’s inquiry - “Selfie Generation”: What’s behind the rise of self-generated indecent images of children online? will investigate the causes behind this phenomenon and recommend ways to combat it and protect children.