Skip to main content

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

K.9: Evolving challenges

116. The risks to children from child sexual abuse and exploitation are constantly evolving. They may arise, for example, as a result of technological advances or as a result of developments in how society understands and responds to a particular risk. It is already apparent that emerging technologies and the globalised nature of child sexual abuse will pose challenges in the future to the protection of children.

117. The UK government and other agencies and organisations already work internationally, and there must be robust action as part of the global response to the sexual abuse of children which is not confined to any specific region, country or continent. There is, for example, growing concern about the ways in which child sexual exploitation is being facilitated by modern slavery and trafficking. There is more that could be done, for example, to enable UK nationals to be prosecuted in England and Wales for sexual abuse committed abroad, which will be addressed as part of the UK government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy.

118. Digital technologies used to facilitate child sexual abuse are continuing to be developed. Interactive games where players communicate online have long been used as a means to groom and sexually exploit children. More recent developments such as virtual worlds known as the metaverse have the potential to become a tool for the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Unlike social media, where interaction is mostly limited to text-based messages and emojis, the metaverse enables the sensation of physical touch. Unlike mobile phones, computers or gaming consoles, virtual reality headsets cannot be externally monitored by parents and they do not store records of users’ interactions. Offenders are able to hide behind anonymous avatars as users’ identities are not verified and children can access adult-only features simply by ticking a box to declare that they meet the minimum age requirements.

119. The Online Safety Bill, laid before Parliament in March 2022, will strengthen the response to such challenges. As proposed, the legislation will not prescribe the use of specific technologies to prevent harm, but instead makes clear that companies should be using technology to address these harms. It includes a “new standalone provision” requiring “providers who publish or place pornographic content on their services to prevent children from accessing that content”, but it will be for the provider to decide how to comply with this duty. There are also plans for action by the government to deter individuals from abusive behaviour and by Ofcom to promote education about online safety.

120. These proposals fail to deal with the Inquiry’s fundamental concern that children under the age of 13 are able to access social media platforms and services too easily, for example by evading overly simplistic age verification requirements (processes that ensure users must prove their age to access certain platforms). Many services require nothing more than entering a date of birth. The Inquiry therefore reiterates its recommendation that stronger age verification techniques are required.

Recommendation 20: Age verification

The Inquiry recommends (as originally stated in its The Internet Investigation Report, dated March 2020) that the UK government introduces legislation requiring providers of online services and social media platforms to implement more stringent age verification measures.


121. Institutions and leaders must recognise developing challenges and ensure that their responses are capable of rapid adaptation to the evolving nature of the threat. In particular, it is critical that statutory agencies, the institutions which interact with children and the online safety regulator are better able to anticipate and respond to risks. The new Child Protection Authorities will play an important role in helping to provide advice on these and other developing challenges in the future.

Back to top