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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

J.2: Globalisation

3. The sexual abuse of children is not confined to any specific region, country or continent. A recent review “conservatively estimated that 1% of the global male population is affected by paedophilia (sexual attraction to prepubescent children)”.[1] The worldwide scale of the problem is also apparent from the fact that the UK is one of a number of countries, including the US, Australia, the Republic of Ireland and Germany, to have established their own inquiries into child sexual abuse. The Roman Catholic Church has initiated inquiries in Germany, France, Spain and Japan.

4. In 1996, the UK hosted 18 percent of the worldwide total of online child sexual abuse imagery. By 2020, this figure was 0.1 percent, with only 180 URLs (web addresses) in the UK displaying child sexual abuse imagery.[2] By way of comparison, in 2020:

  • the Netherlands hosted 117,544 URLs;
  • the USA hosted 8,257 URLs;
  • Russia hosted 3,742 URLs; and
  • Thailand hosted 1,299 URLs.[3]

5. That the UK hosts a relatively small amount of this material may be deceptive. A recent report by the Centre for Social Justice noted that “Britons are the third largest consumers of indecent images of children behind only America and Canada.[4] In relation to live streaming, individuals who purchase or view this material are predominantly based in Europe, North America and Australia.[5] Online perpetrators in the UK contribute to the increasing demand for child sexual abuse material, so the UK government and Welsh Government must take robust action as part of the global response.

6. In June 2018, following a recommendation by the Inquiry, the UK government ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (also known as the Lanzarote Convention).[6] The Lanzarote Convention sets out a wide range of measures that must be in place to protect children from sexual abuse, including:

  • introducing preventive measures (such as the screening, recruitment and training of people working with children, and making children aware of the risks of child sexual abuse);
  • establishing programmes to support victims and survivors, encourage the reporting of suspected child sexual abuse, and set up telephone and internet helplines for children; and
  • ensuring that engaging in sexual activities with a child (such as grooming and overseas child sexual abuse) are criminalised.

7. In 2022, the Lanzarote Committee (the body established to monitor whether parties implement the Lanzarote Convention effectively) published guidance to governments about self-generated child sexual abuse imagery.[7] It also reported on the measures taken by some Member States to protect children affected by the refugee crisis in Europe from child sexual abuse and exploitation.[8] These publications emphasised and reinforced that the institutional response, in particular that of the government and law enforcement, must therefore include an international dimension and cooperation with other countries and international organisations and bodies.

International engagement

8. There are a number of State and non-State institutions in England and Wales that operate on the international stage.

8.1. The Virtual Global Taskforce was established in 2003 as a collaboration between international law enforcement agencies and industry. The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is a member.[9]

8.2. The WeProtect Global Alliance was established in 2014 as a forum to improve the global response to online-facilitated child sexual abuse. In 2022, it has over 200 members, bringing together governments, companies, civil society organisations and international organisations.[10] In its Global Threat Assessment 2021, the Alliance stated that the reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse online had “reached its highest levels”, with evidence of increases in:

  • the incidence of online grooming;
  • the volume of child sexual abuse material available online;
  • the sharing and distribution of child sexual abuse material; and
  • live streaming for payment.[11]

An infographic from WeProtect Global Alliance, Global Threat Assessment 2021 showing a global map with percentages highlighting various countries and their increases in online child sexual abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.Figure J.1: Increases in child sexual abuse during COVID-19

Source: WeProtect Global Alliance, Global Threat Assessment 2021, figure 5

Long Description Increases in child sexual abuse during COVID-19
  • NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) experienced a 106% increase in reports of suspected child sexual exploitation to its global CyberTipline.
  • Europe: 50% increase in some countries in child sexual abuse online.
  • India: 95% increase in internet searches for child sexual abuse materials.
  • Bangladesh: 40% increase in calls to child helplines.
  • Philippines: 265% increase of cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
  • Mexico: 117% increase in reports of child sexual abuse materials discovered online.
  • Uganda: 60% of people surveyed had observed an increase in sexual violence against children since the start of lockdown.
  • Australia: 129% increase of reports of child sexual abuse materials discovered online.

8.3. The UK is also one of the five countries (along with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) participating in the ‘Five Eyes’ Ministerial, an alliance to promote and assist the sharing of intelligence between governments. In July 2019, the Ministerial met with digital industry representatives (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Roblox, Snap and Twitter) to discuss the role of the digital industry in combating online child sexual exploitation on their platforms. One outcome of that meeting was an agreement among the Ministerial that government officials would work with industry to develop voluntary principles to guide private sector efforts in this regard. In March 2020, the Ministerial set out 11 voluntary principles which “aim to provide a framework to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse, and are intended to drive collective action”.[12]

8.4. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is an independent charity which searches for and removes online records of child sexual abuse. The IWF works with local governments, the police, industry, funders and charities to enable the reporting of suspected online child sexual abuse directly to the IWF’s analysts in the UK.[13] It hosts 43 reporting portals worldwide. The portals offer a mechanism for reporting online child sexual abuse imagery for countries that do not currently have this facility. Recent additions include reporting portals in Morocco (February 2021) and Tunisia and Kenya (both June 2021).[14]

9. Perpetrators who travel from the UK and sexually abuse and exploit children overseas are known by law enforcement agencies as transnational child sex offenders.[15] The Inquiry’s Children Outside the UK Phase 2 Investigation Report (published in January 2020) noted the underuse of domestic legislation which enables UK nationals to be prosecuted in England and Wales for sexual abuse that they have committed abroad.[16] It also recommended that legislation be enacted to enable the NCA to establish and maintain a list of countries where children are considered to be at high risk of sexual abuse and exploitation from overseas offenders. This should be made available to the police and used to help determine whether a person who has been charged with sexual offences against a child poses a risk to children overseas based on their travel history and/or plans. Where such a risk exists, the list of countries should be admissible in court and used when considering whether a foreign travel restriction order should be made under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and, if so, to which countries it should apply.[17] In June 2022, the legislation giving effect to the Inquiry’s recommendation came into force.[18]

10. In addition to the work undertaken internationally, there is growing concern about the ways in which child sexual exploitation is being facilitated by modern slavery and trafficking.

10.1. In 2020, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that globally about a third of detected victims of trafficking were children, with sexual exploitation and forced labour comprising the main forms of child trafficking.[19] The WeProtect Global Alliance’s Global Threat Assessment 2021 considers that trafficking will further complicate live streaming investigations:

The crossover between livestreaming and trafficking is likely to become increasingly blurred as more traffickers move their business models online to circumvent the impact of COVID-19 restrictions.[20]

10.2. The government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy (2021) acknowledges that some victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation will also be victims of modern slavery (which includes human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour for the purpose of exploitation).[21] The strategy sets out the use of independent child trafficking guardians (ICTGs) to support victims and survivors and provide advice to trafficked children. The Home Office will continue the national roll out of ICTGs as part of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) Transformation Programme.[22]

10.3. In the UK, it is difficult to quantify the number of children who have been trafficked and, of those victims, to determine the numbers of children trafficked for sexual exploitation – not all victims will come to the attention of the authorities and be referred through the NRM. However, in 2020/21, of those children referred to the NRM, sexual exploitation was the second most commonly recorded reason for the referral. The UK was recorded as the country of origin for the majority of referrals, but countries such as Vietnam, Sudan, Albania, Romania, Afghanistan and Iraq were also listed.[23]

11. The need for the national response to incorporate the wider context of the global problem is obvious. Increased international cooperation between governments, law enforcement agencies and other organisations is therefore vital in combating the harm being done to children worldwide.

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