Online Child Sexual Abuse: Children being targeted, approached, groomed and abused by criminals, says Internet Watch Foundation
IWF, Chief Executive points out that the internet is an important tool for good in children’s lives, but called for more help for parents to spot and understand the dangers.
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND: The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) dubbed 2021 as the worst year on record for child sexual abuse online as lockdowns saw younger and younger children being targeted “on an industrial scale” by internet groomers.
New figures show that, in 2021, IWF took action against 252,000 URLs which it confirmed contained images or videos of children being raped and suffering sexual abuse.
In total last year, IWF analysts investigated 361,000 reports, including tip-offs from the public, of suspected criminal material. This is more than they dealt with in the entire first 15 years of their existence when from 1996 to 2011 they assessed 335,558 reports, IWF said.
The IWF warned parents that internet sex predators are targeting and grooming younger children, with a sharp rise in content showing the abuse of children aged between 7 and 10 years old.
Child safety experts say younger children have been relying more and more on the internet during the pandemic, and that spending longer online may be leaving them more vulnerable to communities of criminals who are looking to find and manipulate children into recording their own sexual abuse on camera. The footage is then shared among other criminals on the open internet.
Self-generated sexual imagery of children aged 7-10 years old has increased three-fold making it the fasted growing age group. In 2020 there were 8,000 instances. In 2021 there were 27,000 – a 235 percent increase.
Self-generated content of children aged 11-13 remains the biggest age group for this kind of material. In 2021, 147,900 reports contained self-generated material involving children aged between 11 and 13. In 2020, 55,300 reports included self-generated material involving children in this age group. This is a 167% increase.
Self-generated child sexual abuse content is 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. There is no adult physically present in the room.
Some of these videos contain Category A material – the most severe level of abuse which includes self-penetrative sexual activity.
Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, noted that the internet is an important tool for good in children’s lives, but called for more help for parents to spot and understand the dangers.
“Children are being targeted, approached, groomed and abused by criminals on an industrial scale. So often, this sexual abuse is happening in children’s bedrooms in family homes, with parents being wholly unaware of what is being done to their children by strangers with an internet connection," she added.
“Devices can be an open door into your home, and children can be especially vulnerable to being drawn into these predators’ traps. We know that if parents have one good conversation with their children it can make all the difference, and could be what stops a lifetime of hurt as a result of this grooming," Hargreaves pointed out.