In a new report, a UK-based internet watchdog has declared young girls more vulnerable that ever to online sex predators.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) released its annual report on Wednesday that shows a worrying trend of sexual grooming among children, particularly young girls.
In 2020, the IWF identified a staggering 68,000 cases of “self-generated imagery” being shared online globally, referring to photos, videos and other visual media produced by the victims, as a result of coercion by a predator — up 77% over the previous year’s total.
Notably, girls aged 11 to 13 made 80% of this year’s total. The IWF has also seen an increase in images of girls, from 78% in 2018 to 93% in 2020, with boys and “combined” representing a 3% share each of the total.
Overall, the IWF confirmed a total of 153,369 URLs containing or advertising child sexual abuse imagery, 44% of which was “self-generated” by the victims.
“The scale of the problem is appalling,” said IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves OBE. “And our fear is without intervention it will get worse.”
Pandemic restrictions have created a “captive audience” out of kids who are spending more time online due while unable to engage in many offline activities.
In a public statement, Hargreaves added, “We don’t want to frighten people, but we do want to build resilience to the threat of self-generated sexual abuse of children.”
“We want to help teenage girls to recognize the actions that constitute self-generated sexual abuse as abuse,” she continued. “We want them to feel empowered to take control, and to understand how to deal with inappropriate requests and report them to a trusted source.”
In October of last year, the Department of Justice warned families of “increased access to children” online by sexual predators. In a joint statement by a number of federal attorneys, child abuse advocates, leads of the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and US Marshals, they said it was “essential” that parents, guardians and teachers are well aware of risks and warning signs “to prevent exploitation.”
“We must all educate ourselves and talk to our children about the risks inherent in the open access the internet provides,” said Lisa Fletcher, assistant US attorney of the Northern District of New York, and she urged parents to talk openly about what their kids do, where they go and who they talk to online. “Showing that you care will go a long way with a child and that in turn will go a long way in keeping them safe.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which took part in the Justice Department’s Safety Pledge initiative against online predators, saw a 97.5% increase in reports of “online enticement” from 2019 to 2020.
The NCMEC and the IWF encourage internet users to report instances of online child abuse through their tips lines and refer to their websites for more guidance on keeping kids safe online.