Children forced into most severe forms of abuse online, charity warns

The Internet Watch Foundation has urged the government to return the Online Safety Bill to Parliament.

Children being coerced into most severe forms of sexual abuse online, Internet Watch Foundation warns iStock

A charity has urged the government to return the Online Safety Bill to Parliament after new data revealed the most severe forms of child sexual abuse are being carried out online.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) revealed it found nearly 900 instances of Category A child sexual abuse material in just five days.

Analysts at the charity found that children aged 11 to 13 accounted for 75% of the images recorded, while 20% were of seven to ten-year-olds and 5% were children aged 14 to 15.

Most of the content found had been shared online by an abuser who had coerced a child remotely via an internet-connected device with a camera, the charity claimed.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of IWF, urged the government to reintroduce the repeatedly delayed Online Safety Bill to Parliament.

She said: “Predators are gaining unprecedented access to our children in places where we think they should be safe and protected.

“This is happening in homes in the UK and around the world. Abusers will stop at nothing and use everything and anything at their disposal to target, groom and exploit children online for their sexual purposes.

“While IWF analysts were able to ensure these awful images were blocked or taken down, we know that many thousands of images and videos of children being abused continue to be available online.

“It’s vital that the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill is returned to Parliament as soon as possible, so that more is done to tackle this issue. We need to see important steps taken towards making the UK a safer place for children to go online.

“Further Government delays threaten both the Bill’s future and the opportunities to help protect children from being exploited by predators on the internet.”

The Bill would require online platforms to find and take down illegal content in an effort to protect children.

As part of its own work, the IWF identifies and removes online images and videos of child abuse and offers the public a place to report abuse anonymously.

In response to the research, Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of children’s charity the NSPCC said: “In less than a week the IWF has identified hundreds of videos of children suffering some of the most horrific forms of online sexual abuse imaginable.

“No matter how disturbing and upsetting these findings are we cannot shy away from the fact that this is the reality of online child sexual abuse and is happening on a daily basis in family homes across the country.

“No child should have to suffer in this way, but this abuse is inherently preventable and should serve as a wake-up call to the Prime Minister.

“It is absolutely crucial the Government acts swiftly to deliver a strengthened Online Safety Bill that compels companies to systematically tackle the grooming and abuse taking place at record levels on their sites and private messaging services.”

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