A frightening ‘new normal’ – alert as online abuse soars

The legacy of Covid-19 lockdown is a frightening ‘new normal’ for the online grooming and sexual abuse of young people, with many images and videos being created by the victims themselves. Schools must be on alert. Pete Henshaw reports

The mission of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is to help victims of child sexual abuse by “identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse”. In 2021, the IWF took action on more reports of online child abuse material than during the first 15 years of its existence (IWF, 2022a).

This includes removing a “record-breaking” 252,000 URLs which it confirmed contained images or videos of children being raped and/or suffering sexual abuse. This equates to millions of individual images and videos.

Disturbingly, 182,281 of the URLs contained images or videos of “self-generated” material. This compares to 38,424 such cases in 2019. So-called “self-generated” material has been made by a child themselves on a webcam-enabled device. The victims have often been tricked, bullied, or coerced into performing sexual acts by an adult who has groomed them online.

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