Children as young as seven targeted by online sex abusers on ‘industrial scale’ | #predators | #childpredators | #kids


The year 2021 was the worst on record for child sexual abuse online as lockdowns saw children as young as seven being targeted “on an industrial scale”, an internet safety group has said.

New figures show that, in 2021, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) took action against 252,000 URLs which contained images or videos of children being raped and suffering sexual abuse.

The organisation, which finds and helps remove abuse content from the internet, investigated 361,000 reports of suspected criminal material last year – more than it dealt with in its entire first 15 years of existence between 1996 and 2011.

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The IWF is now warning parents that sex predators are targeting and grooming younger children, with a sharp rise in content showing the abuse of youngsters aged between seven and 10.

Child safety experts say younger children have been relying more and more on the internet during the pandemic, and spending longer online may be leaving them more vulnerable to criminals.

In 2021, 182,000 reports included so-called self-generated material, which is created using webcams, very often in the child’s own room, and then shared online.

In some cases, children are groomed, deceived or extorted into producing and sharing a sexual image or video of themselves. There is no adult physically present in the room.

The Government is now launching a new campaign and website Stop Abuse Together to help parents spot the signs of sexual abuse and keep children safe.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, said: “Children are being targeted, approached, groomed and abused by criminals on an industrial scale.

“So often, this sexual abuse is happening in children’s bedrooms in family homes, with parents being wholly unaware of what is being done to their children by strangers with an internet connection.

“We then see how this content is shared repeatedly across many websites, creating a despicable market place for this material. This is what we tackle on a global scale in partnership with internet companies, law enforcement bodies, and other hotlines around the world.

“We have identified criminals that have exploited opportunities to reshare the same images again and again on a large scale by moving hosts and countries.

“Devices can be an open door into your home, and children can be especially vulnerable to being drawn into these predators’ traps. We know that if parents have one good conversation with their children it can make all the difference, and could be what stops a lifetime of hurt as a result of this grooming.

“Parents need to be supported in knowing how to broach the topic with their children, and to give them the confidence to call out inappropriate behaviour when they see it.

“We’re pleased to see the Government stepping in to help educate parents, and provide them with ways they can help protect children from this growing problem.”

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