IWF calls on MPs to ‘rise above’ Westminster chaos as IICSA highlights ‘incalculable’ damage from online child sexual abuse

Published:  Thu 20 Oct 2022

The internet is “magnifying” risks of sexual abuse for children, with revictimisation caused by the repeated sharing of images and videos causing “incalculable” harm to victims, a major new report has warned.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) today (20 October) published its final report into child sexual abuse in England and Wales.

The Inquiry, which began in 2015, incorporates 15 investigations, and aims to find ways to understand historic failings and to better protect children from sexual abuse.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is a core participant of the Inquiry.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse IICSA Logo

In 2019, the IWF, which is the UK organisation dedicated to finding and removing child sexual abuse from the internet, gave evidence to IICSA.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “It’s stark to see how even since giving evidence to this Inquiry in 2019 the scale of online child sexual abuse has continued to rise, and abusers are finding new ways to distribute this material.

“It’s never acceptable for any of us in the offline or online world to be passive when it comes to protecting children.”

The Inquiry’s final report says the internet is “magnifying” child sexual abuse and grooming.

Susie Hargreaves OBE in IWF Offices
Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO

Professor Alexis Jay OBE, who chaired the Inquiry, said: “The Internet Watch Foundation has estimated that in a single month during the first 2020 lockdown, there were over eight and a half million attempts by UK internet users to access child sexual abuse imagery.”

The report warns that live streaming of child sexual abuse, and the fear of revictimisation through the repeated sharing of images and videos online is causing “incalculable” damage.

The report said: “Online facilitated child sexual abuse magnifies the risk to children both nationally and internationally. Escalating production and sharing of child sexual abuse material and the live streaming of sexual abuse affects children of all ages but particularly those aged under 13 years.

Report adds: “Those affected live in fear that images of them being sexually abused remain available on the internet indefinitely. The harm done to children and their families is incalculable.”

The inquiry cites the IWF’s findings – warning that younger and younger children are now being drawn into a cycle of online abuse.

Professor Alexis Jay OBE IICSA Chair
Professor Alexis Jay OBE, Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)

The report said: “The IWF reported that self-generated sexual imagery of children aged from 7 to 10 years old has increased three-fold, making it the fastest growing age group. In 2020, there were 8,000 instances; in 2021 there were 27,000 – a 235 percent increase.

“Children have expressed concern about repeat victimisation because self-generated sexual images remain available on the internet.”

Ms Hargreaves added: “Children cannot and must not be made to wait while we find a solution. Victims need our protection now. Children suffering with the knowledge images and videos of their sexual abuse may still be being circulated is a horror which must not continue.

“Now, MPs must rise above the chaos and uncertainty at the heart of Government and focus on delivering a strong and unequivocal Online Safety Bill. A clear timetable for when this is achieved must now be brought forward. We cannot see children who have already been let down being failed again.

“The IWF is ready and eager to help further. We have unparalleled knowledge and experience. Our working relationships with the National Crime Agency in the UK, law enforcement globally, and the tech industry, as well as with the UK Government puts us right at the heart of the response.”

  • The IWF welcomes recommendations made by the report, including on mandatory reporting of suspected child sexual abuse, and mandatory online pre-screening by tech platforms for sexual images of children.
  • The Inquiry also calls for more robust age verification requirements for the use of online platforms and services including social media platforms by children, a measure the IWF has long supported.
  • The IWF also welcomes the proposed creation of a Minister for Children, and the suggestion of a public awareness campaign on child sexual abuse.
  • The IWF also applauds the renewed focus on victims, with recommendations that victims of child sexual abuse online should be included in criminal injuries compensation scheme, and the proposed creation of Child Protection Authorities (CPAs) to oversee efforts to keep children safe, something the IWF would be pleased to support.

The recommendations will be enforced by “cabinet level ministerial positions for children to provide senior leadership and increased priority within government”.

The report also highlights the importance of Report Remove, an online tool launched in 2021 by the IWF and Childline which allows children and young people to report sexual images and videos of themselves.

The report reads: “Given the growth in self-generated imagery, Report Remove is likely to become an increasingly useful tool to help prevent children being harmed by the knowledge that an image of them is available online to be viewed and shared with others.”

IICSA also called the requirement for companies to find a technical solution to keeping children safe online before introducing end to end encryption “long overdue” saying there is “a stark debate” between protection of privacy and protection of children.

The report said: “A technical solution is now overdue to assist the detection of online-facilitated child sexual abuse, and to make the internet safe for all children.”

In March 2020, IICSA published its report into the growing problem of “online-facilitated child sexual abuse”- the internet part of the inquiry.

The 2020 report noted how the IWF’s work to remove “significant amounts” of child sexual abuse material from the internet is a “genuine success story”, but warned that internet companies and the government need to do more to make sure children are kept safe.

In a report in March 2020, the Inquiry said: “The IWF sits at the heart of the national response to combating the proliferation of indecent images of children.

“It is an organisation that deserves to be publicly acknowledged as being a vital part of how, and why, comparatively little child sexual abuse material is hosted in the UK.”

Teenage boys targeted as hotline sees ‘heartbreaking’ increase in child ‘sextortion’ reports

Teenage boys targeted as hotline sees ‘heartbreaking’ increase in child ‘sextortion’ reports

The IWF and NSPCC say tech platforms must do more to protect children online as confirmed sextortion cases soar.

18 March 2024 News
Pioneering chatbot reduces searches for illegal sexual images of children

Pioneering chatbot reduces searches for illegal sexual images of children

A major 18-month trial project has demonstrated a first-of-its-kind chatbot and warning message can reduce the number of online searches that may potentially be indicative of intent to find sexual images of children.

29 February 2024 News
“Trailblazing” partnership takes aim at criminals profiting from child sexual abuse online

“Trailblazing” partnership takes aim at criminals profiting from child sexual abuse online

Criminals running commercial child sexual abuse ‘brands’ are taking advantage of a ‘loophole’ to remain online. This new partnership aims to shut them down for good.

7 February 2024 News