King says tackling grooming and 'digitally enabled' child sexual abuse priorities for Government

Published:  Tue 7 Nov 2023

Tackling online grooming and child sexual abuse will be a Government priority as the King says new laws will target “new or complex” and “digitally-enabled” crimes.

Speaking at the State Opening of Parliament today (November 7), King Charles said the Government will look to empower police forces and the courts to take stronger action against “digital-enabled” crime.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the King said: “My Ministers will introduce legislation to empower police forces and the criminal justice system to prevent new or complex crimes, such as digital-enabled crime and child sexual abuse, including grooming.”

In September, the Internet Watch Foundation revealed it has discovered almost 200,000 (192,792) webpages containing so-called self-generated images so far in 2023. This is 95% of all the webpages the IWF has taken action against so far this year.

This imagery has been created after a child, who has often been groomed, tricked, bullied, or otherwise coerced by an adult predator, has performed sexually in front of a webcam. The footage is captured by the predator, and it is soon shared online with other criminals with a sexual interest in children.

One in five of these URLs containing “self-generated” imagery included “Category A” child sexual abuse, meaning they depicted the worst kinds of sexual abuse, which can include penetrative sexual activity, or even images involving sexual activity with an animal, or sadism.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “The threats posed by criminals targeting and grooming children online are clear.

“Now, with an internet connection and a web-cam, a child sexual abuser may as well be in the room with your child. They can get into a child’s life and force them into the worst kinds of sexual abuse, all for their own gratification, and that of other dangerous sexual predators.

“The IWF looks forward to hearing more about the Government’s proposals – and we will continue to do all we can to warn parents and children about the dangers – and to ensure this abuse is tracked down and removed as quickly as it can be.”

The King also used his speech to announce the Government will establish "new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development" of potentially revolutionary technologies like machine learning and AI.

Last month, the IWF published a major study into the abuse of AI image generators, which criminals are using to produce life-like child sexual abuse imagery.

The study focused on a single dark web forum dedicated to child sexual abuse imagery.

In a single month (September 1 – September 31, 2023)

  • The IWF investigated 11,108 AI images which had been shared on a dark web child abuse forum.
  • Of these, 2,978 were confirmed as images which breach UK law – meaning they depicted child sexual abuse.
  • Of these images, 2,562 were so realistic, the law would need to treat them the same as if they had been real abuse images*.
  • More than one in five of these images (564) were classified as Category A, the most serious kind of imagery which can depict rape, sexual torture, and bestiality.
  • More than half (1,372) of these images depicted primary school-aged children (seven to 10 years old).
  • As well as this, 143 images depicted children aged three to six, while two images depicted babies (under two years old).

Ms Hargreaves added: “The potential for abuse of AI image generators is staggering, and it is good to see the Government is treating getting a handle on this emerging technology as a priority.

“As always, the devil will be in the detail – but we stand ready to work with companies, as well as the Government and law enforcement agencies, to make sure the threats and harms are addressed.”

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