Warnings over 'explosion' of self-generated online child sexual abuse

There has been an “explosion” in the amount of child sexual abuse material being found online with much of the content “self-generated” by children who have been tricked, groomed or coerced into abusing themselves on camera.

Jul 28, 2021
By Tony Thompson
Picture: IWF

The latest data from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) shows that, between January 1 and June 14 this year, the charity, which finds and removes child sexual abuse material from the internet, has worked to remove 100,616 web pages after analysts confirmed they contained images or videos of children being raped and suffering sexual abuse.

This compares with 62,234 reports during the same period in 2020, a 62 per cent increase on this time last year. In 2020, IWF analysts confirmed a total of 153,350 reports of child sexual abuse material for the entire year.

Of the reports the IWF has so far confirmed in 2021, 64,278 have been confirmed to contain “self-generated material”, which is often filmed in the victims’ own bedrooms, and can be of the most severe sexual abuse. This compares with 40,672 reports which the IWF determined to contain self-generated material in the first six months of 2020.

The charity is also warning parents and children that sexual predators are deliberately grooming and targeting children in a process known as “capping”.

This is where criminals trick a child into abusing themselves over a camera-enabled device in footage, which is then captured and shared by predators online. These videos and images are frequently swapped and used as “currency”.

As a result, the charity is launching the second phase of a campaign to help protect teenage girls who may be spending longer online during the school summer holidays.

Former chief constable Simon Bailey, who recently retired as lead on child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council said he “fears another independent inquiry into child sexual abuse material” as the amount of teenage girls falling victim to internet groomers continues to soar.

Mr Bailey said: “We have seen, through Covid, a perfect storm with children spending more time online and predators looking to exploit the opportunity to abuse them. This kind of threat has escalated throughout the last eight years. This is now going way beyond an online threat.

“During the pandemic we have seen a really worrying increase in the number of self-generated images being produced by girls aged between 11 and 13 years old.

“That is why the IWF campaign targeting this particular group of victims is so important. I was really impressed by the first phase of the campaign, but I think it needs to go on for longer.

“More and more children are being exploited and we need to mitigate that. This kind of threat has escalated throughout the last eight years. This is now going way beyond an online threat.

“In cases like David Wilson [a former Norfolk roofer who was convicted this year of 96 child sex offences], he was blackmailing and coercing children into abusing their siblings. It was shocking.

“My great fear is that in 15 or 20 years’ time there will be another independent inquiry into child sexual abuse material, and the question will be how did we allow this to happen?”

Susie Hargreaves OBE, chief executive of the IWF, said: “The numbers we are seeing, particularly of self-generated materials are crazy. We’re seeing reports in numbers we’ve never seen before. Self-generated material is now the predominant issue for IWF.

“Predators have adopted this disturbing new technique, and the images and videos of children they extort are now becoming currency for internet sex predators. With the summer holidays on the way, we want to reach out to teenagers and their parents to warn them of the dangers. We must not allow this to become the summer of online sexual abuse.”

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