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Child sexual abuse facilitated online

Summary

The Inquiry wants to learn more about child sexual abuse that is enabled by the internet, together with ways in which children can be kept safe from this type of abuse. The Inquiry has therefore carried out a package of research consisting of:

  • Three rapid evidence assessments (REAs), published in January 2018. These bought together existing research covering:
    • The extent and scale of child sexual abuse facilitated online;
    • The characteristics of victims of child sexual abuse facilitated online; and
    • The behaviour and characteristics of perpetrators of child sexual abuse facilitated online.
  • Primary research, published in November 2019, exploring children's views on online sexual harm and the education they receive on this in school.

 

Key Themes

  • Child sexual abuse
  • Online
  • Internet
  • Vulnerability

 

Contact

research@iicsa.org.uk

 

Background

  • The Internet Investigation is looking at the adequacy of the response of the police and other law enforcement organisations as well as the internet industry to child sexual abuse facilitated online. The investigation focuses on the institutional responses and actions and aims to make practical recommendations that minimise the opportunities for child sexual abuse, perpetrated enabled by the internet, in the future.
  • Child sexual abuse facilitated online includes sexual grooming and receiving sexual requests, live streaming as well as producing, exchanging and commissioning images of child sexual abuse in the digital environment. Online behaviours such as self-generated images, sexting (sending sexual messages, images, audios or videos via mobile phones and other devices) and live streaming also put children at risk of being sexually abused or exploited.  

What we have learned from the REAs

  • Quantifying the extent of online-facilitated child sexual abuse

The REA looked at sources that measure the scale of child sexual abuse facilitated online in the following ways: (a) number of reported offences; (b) number of victims; (c) number of perpetrators; and (d) number of images viewed, downloaded or exchanged. Each of these four measures produces very different figures, partly because they are attempting to count different aspects of online-facilitated child sexual abuse. None of these measures are likely to reveal the true extent of online-facilitated child sexual abuse.

  • Characteristics and vulnerabilities of victims of online-facilitated child sexual abuse and exploitation

There is strong evidence to suggest that girls are more likely to be victims of online-facilitated child sexual abuse than boys. The following characteristics may put some children at greater risk: prior experience of neglect of abuse; disability; social isolation; amount of time spent online; other risky behaviour such as alcohol or drug use.

  • Behaviour and characteristics of perpetrators of online-facilitated child sexual abuse

There is an absence of research about the demographic profile of perpetrators of online-facilitated child sexual abuse. However studies suggest that more perpetrators are male, aged 18-25 and are less likely to have previous convictions compared to other perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

What we have learned from children

Primary research was carried out with children and young people to explore their views on: being online and the risks of sexual harm; the education they received about online sexual harm within state school settings and how this could be improved; and what else should be done to better protect children and young people from online sexual harm understand children’s knowledge about staying safe from online-facilitated child sexual abuse.

The research involved over 260 participants, aged 10-18 years and was carried out by the University of Bedfordshire.   

The research found that:  

  • Listening to the views of children and young people is critical in ensuring the ongoing development of protective efforts are relevant and beneficial.

  • Exposure to risk of online sexual harm is a common experience; children and young people need access to education that addresses this before spending unsupervised time online.

  • Children and young people value the opportunities that being online offers, and find overly negative and avoidance-based messaging unhelpful.

  • Schools have a vital role to play in education about online sexual harm. Education about online sexual harm should do more to ensure children and young people do not believe responsibility for preventing online sexual harm lies with them.

  • Families, industry and wider society need to play their part in tackling online sexual harm. 

Implications for the work of the Inquiry

The findings from the research supports the Internet investigation, specifically in terms of children’s views and where there may be gaps in safeguarding and education.

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