Online child sexual blackmail quadruples after lockdown

According to a report, the number of children coerced by adults into posting sexualized images of themselves has quadrupled since lockdowns began to be used during the Chinese coronavirus crisis.

Figures released by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) found 19,670 pages of ‘self-generated’ sexual images by children as young as seven in Britain, often in their bedrooms after being blackmailed or tricked by adults into posting them online.

This is a 360% increase since lockdowns were first instituted in Britain when 4,277 similar cases were discovered and a 66% increase from 2021 when 11,873 were discovered.

The IWF found that the fastest growing age subgroup for such activity was children between the ages of seven and 10, who also saw the greatest number of new sites hosting sexualized images of all age groups. The report claimed that in the first half of 2022, the top five such websites were previously unknown to the charity.

An IWF analyst said: “Every day I see children who have been asked to strip naked, stand naked or perform in front of a camera.

“They are asked to show close-ups of their genitals and sometimes to use household objects to masturbate. This happens in their bedrooms, mostly, where we see toys, laundry baskets, posters on the walls, teddy bears and closets full of clothes.

The IWF said the number of children aged 11 to 13 tricked or blackmailed into posting sexualized images of themselves online had also doubled since 2019, from 27,090 to 56,179.

Among those aged 16-19, there was a 151% increase and a 36% increase was seen among children aged 14-15.

Commenting on the report, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The cruelty and inhumanity of people who abuse children is appalling. Since becoming Home Secretary, I have been unequivocal in my support for law enforcement to prosecute these disgusting offenders who abuse children in the UK and overseas. I led all international efforts to combat these abuses and persuaded my international counterparts to do the same.

“Online child sexual abuse has a lifelong effect on victims. I have pursued policies and actions to ensure that tech companies are held accountable for the safety of our children.

There have long been warnings that sexual predators would use lockdowns, in which children spend far more time at home and on the internet than before, to increase their operations to manipulate young people online.

In March 2020 – at the start of the shutdowns – Europol warned that sexual predators would try to take advantage of coronavirus restrictions to exploit children, noting that they had already by then noticed “increased online activity by those who are looking for child pornography”.

These warnings were backed up in October 2021 when WeProtect Global Alliance published a report claiming that the blocks had led to a significant increase in online child abuse, including a 77% increase in the number of young people posting naked or sexualized images. of themselves on the Internet. .

Internet Watch Foundation chief executive Susie Hargreaves OBE said: “Children are not to blame. They are often coerced, deceived or pressured by sexual abusers on the Internet.

“Child sexual abuse that is facilitated and captured by technology using an internet connection does not require the abuser to be physically present, and most often occurs when the child is in their bedroom – a so-called ‘space’. safe” in the family home.

“Therefore, it should be entirely avoidable. We need to tackle this crime in many ways, including providing parents and guardians with support to have positive discussions about technology use and sexual abuse, within the home.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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