Call for experts to help tackle growing threat of ‘self-generated’ online child sexual abuse material

Published:  Thu 8 Apr 2021

Experts in the east of England could be key to understanding why record numbers of children are becoming victims of “self-generated” online child sexual abuse.

Anglia Ruskin University’s Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) is looking for “ambitious, highly motivated and talented researchers” to take part in a programme of applied research in the investigation and prevention of child sexual abuse (CSA).

The programme, which will be run from the university’s Cambridge or Chelmsford campus, will focus on “Improving understanding and prevention of self-generated indecent images of children”, with a second studentship looking at “new directions in the investigation and prevention of child sexual abuse”.

Successful candidates will undertake a three-year, funded PhD, working to understand emerging threats online and how to combat them. The posts will be based at the university’s Cambridge or Chelmsford campus. Candidates have until April 25 to apply.

This comes at a time when the Internet Watch Foundation is warning analysts are seeing a record amount of self-generated material.

This content can include child sexual abuse images or videos which has been 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.

Some of these videos contain Category A material – the most severe level of abuse which includes penetrative sexual activity.

In 2020, IWF analysts processed 299,600 reports, which include tip offs from members of the public. This is up from 260,400 reports in 2019. This is an increase of 15%.

Of these reports, 153,350 were confirmed as containing images and/or videos of children being sexually abused. This compares to 132,700 in 2019 - an increase of 16%. Every report contains between one, and thousands of child sexual abuse images and videos. This equates to millions of images and videos.

Of these, 68,000 reports were tagged as including “self-generated” child sexual abuse content – a 77% increase on 2019’s total of 38,400 reports.

Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive of the IWF, said the new research post comes at a pivotal time in understanding the threats children face online.

She said: “Children are facing a real threat on the internet, and our experts have seen first-hand how predators target young people and make them the victims of bullying, blackmail and grooming, all to the end of having them create videos and images of their own sexual abuse online.

“This is a really pivotal time in our understanding of this. With more people than ever relying on the internet to live, work, and socialise, we must make sure this lifeline is safe and fit for all, and that predators are prevented from exploiting it.”

Dr Samantha Lundrigan, Director of the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region said: “Child sexual abuse represents the greatest challenge to policing outside of terrorism with latest figures from the National Crime Agency (NCA) estimating that there are a minimum 300,000 individuals in the UK posing a sexual threat to children.

“We are delighted to be working with the IWF and other partners to conduct ground-breaking research that will help enhance our understanding and prevention of these crimes.“

More information about the opportunity, and how to apply, is available at https://aru.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research/pier-dawes-phd-scholarships

For the PIER 1 studentship focusing on self-generated material, applicants will need to go through the Internet Watch Foundation’s recruitment process.

Due to the requirement of viewing illegal content, candidates will be required to go through additional interviews including an in-person interview with the IWF counsellor to assess the suitability of the candidate to manage the content and an image viewing session prior to being offered the position.

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