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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 Internet Investigation Report

B.1: Online-facilitated child sexual abuse

1. The government’s Serious and Organised Crime Strategy 2018 described the nature and scale of online-facilitated child sexual abuse:

Any child can be a victim of abuse or exploitation … The exploitation of children online is becoming easier and more extreme. All ages are affected, from babies and toddlers through to older teenagers. Child sex offenders are becoming more sophisticated, using social media, image and file sharing sites, gaming sites and dating sites to groom potential victims. In response to law enforcement efforts to apprehend them, they are using encryption, anonymisation and destruction measures on the dark web and the open internet. Live-streamed abuse is a growing threat and children’s own use of self-broadcast live-streaming applications are being exploited by offenders.[1]


2. The magnitude of the scale and growth of online-facilitated child sexual abuse is significant.

2.1. A 2015 report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) estimated that:

there may be between 450,000 and 590,000 males aged 18–89 in the UK who have at some point viewed and used child sexual abuse images”.[2]

2.2. In 2016/17, police forces in England and Wales[3] recorded 5,653 incidents of sexual crimes against children where there was an online element to the crime.[4] In 2017/18, the figure had grown to 8,525 offences.[5]

2.3. On 3 September 2018, a joint operation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and local police forces in the UK resulted in the arrest of 131 suspects for offences relating to indecent images of children.[6] The scale of these arrests was not unusual. Mr Robert Jones, Director of Threat Leadership for the NCA, characterised it as just “a week in the life of national policing and its work with the NCA.[7]

2.4. Since 2016, approximately 400 to 450 people are arrested in the UK each month for offences of online-facilitated child sexual abuse.[8]

2.5. The Inquiry’s Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) Quantifying the Extent of Online-facilitated Child Sexual Abuse states:

Although no study identified in this REA examined the proportion of adults holding online sexualised conversations with young people in England and Wales, it is unlikely that figures would be below the lowest estimate of 1 in 10 adults.[9]

3. As the government’s recent Online Harms White Paper (April 2019) observed, “The sheer scale of CSEA online is horrifying”.[10]


4. As the scale of offending grows, so does the severity of the abuse. Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations, told us that the police were seeing “an exponential increase in reports of abuse but also that “levels of depravity that are – if they could get worse, are getting worse. We are seeing babies being subjects of sexual abuse”.[11]

5. In its 2018 Annual Report, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)[12] said that where it detected child sexual abuse imagery of younger children, “it is more likely to show the most severe forms of abuse, including rape and sexual torture.[13] In 2018, Matthew Falder, aged 29, was convicted of offences that included using the internet to encourage the rape of a two-year-old child and offences against a newborn baby.[14] In another recent case, an offender uploaded videos on to a site on the dark web showing his abuse of children aged three and five years old.[15] The Home Office told us about one site on the dark web that required its subscribers to upload 20 first-generation images, or a two-minute video of infant or toddler abuse, each month.[16]


6. We asked the Home Office what the government was doing to gain a better understanding of what was driving the growing demand for child sexual abuse. Mr Christian Papaleontiou, Head of the Home Office’s Tackling Exploitation and Abuse Unit, told us that there were:

different models of and motivations for child sexual abuse and exploitation. Some of it will be sexual interest in children, some of it … where it is almost pure sadism … Equally, we will know … about the issue of the whole interaction between the power and authority on one hand and vulnerability.[17]

7. He agreed that there needed to be “a much more sophisticated understanding[18] of the reasons why perpetrators committed child sexual abuse and explained that the Home Office had provided £7.5 million to fund the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse. He told us that one aspect of the Centre’s work was to look at “typologies of child sexual abuse” to help understand “how you can take different approaches to different sorts of offenders”.[19]


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