Online Child Exploitation
Online child abuse content surge during pandemic
Apr 8, 2022
Child abuse and child sexual abuse imagery on the rise due to lockdowns in the UK
Content warning: This article contains information and content that viewers may find distressing or upsetting.
Child abuse has seen a tenfold increase during the pandemic lockdowns, according to new data from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). The data shows that predators have taken advantage of the lockdowns, with social media websites seeing an explosion in popularity in early 2020. The IWF logged more than 63,000 webpages showing child sexual abuse material last year, compared to 5,000 before the pandemic. The charity states that younger children are being pulled into abusive situations by predators, often while they are in their own bedrooms.
The tragic reality of child sex abuse during lockdowns
The IWF estimates that the imagery is of 7-10 year olds, and over 8,000 items contained what is classed as Category A material, which is the most severe kind. This can include penetrative sexual activity, images involving sexual activity with an animal, or sadism. In one video seen by IWF analysts, a 9-year-old girl was instructed by adults over an online platform to perform sex acts while in her bedroom surrounded by cuddly toys. She was interrupted when a presumed family member, who was oblivious to the abuse taking place, called up to ask her to run a bath for her (presumed) little brother.
The IWF is calling on the UK government to do more to protect children through the long-delayed Online Safety Bill. The bill is currently being amended to potentially make tech platform bosses criminally liable for any failures to prevent, identify and remove child sexual abuse and exploitation content. However, the IWF states that the material it processes is coming from all over the world and most of it is not hosted in the UK. The United States National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children also reported an increase of child sexual abuse material in 2021.
Highlighting the importance of education and awareness
The rise in child sexual abuse material during the pandemic lockdowns highlights the importance of education and awareness about the dangers of the internet for children and families. Parents and caregivers should be aware of the potential risks associated with social media and other online platforms, and take steps to protect their children from online predators. This can include monitoring their children’s online activity, setting parental controls, and educating them about safe internet use.
It is also important for tech companies to take responsibility for the content on their platforms and to take steps to prevent the spread of child sexual abuse material. This can include implementing stronger algorithms to detect and remove such content, and working with law enforcement and other organizations to combat child abuse.
The importance of government action in combatting illegal content
In addition to the efforts of tech companies and families, it is crucial for government and law enforcement agencies to take a strong stance against child abuse and to provide the necessary resources to combat it. The UK government’s Online Safety Bill is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to ensure that children are protected from online predators.
Overall, it is a collective responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, this includes parents, educators, tech companies, and government agencies. There is no one solution to prevent child abuse, but by working together, we can reduce the number of children who are victimised online.
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