More than one in 10 British young people exposed to online child sexual abuse

Published:  Mon 5 Dec 2022

More than one in 10 young people have been exposed to online child sexual abuse material according to “shocking” new data.

New research* commissioned by the Internet Watch Foundation shows 14%** of young people in Britain aged 18-24 report having come into contact with, or stumbling across, websites showing child sexual abuse images or videos.

A further 10% of people aged 25-34 also reported they had been exposed to child sexual abuse material online.

More than 2,000 British adults were polled on their experience of online harms, with 6% of all British adults reporting having been exposed to images or videos of child sexual abuse online.

The research shows men are more likely (8%) than women (5%) to report coming into contact with such websites.

Those who are not working, and not seeking work are most at risk of seeing this content online (14%), along with students (13%).

The IWF is the UK charity responsible for finding and removing child sexual abuse material from the internet. The research will support the charity in directing their “report” messages to the groups of people most at risk of stumbling.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “These findings are a shocking reminder that this material is out there, and criminals are relentless in exploiting and abusing children.

“Without the tireless work of our analysts, who find, block, and work to remove this content, the number of people accidentally exposed to this traumatising material could be even higher.

“While this material is online, victims are unable to fully recover, knowing their abuse is being shared by criminals on the internet. For an ordinary person to stumble across this material, it can be a horrible experience, and we urge anyone who sees what they suspect to be child sexual abuse material online to do the right thing and report it, anonymously, to our hotline.”

The UK has an excellent track record in fighting the availability of child sexual abuse material. In 2021, thanks to the work of the IWF and our industry partners, the UK hosted just 0.15% of all known child sexual abuse material on the internet.

Despite this, there is huge demand in the UK for this criminal imagery, and UK residents are still at risk of finding or stumbling across content online which is hosted in other countries.

The IWF is proactive in making sure people are protected from accidentally seeing this content.

The charity runs a dynamic URL List, which is updated twice a day, which IWF Members can use to block access to these criminal webpages and importantly, stop the children in the images being revictimised every time an abuser tries to find them.

The list contains webpages the IWF has confirmed contain images and videos of child sexual abuse.

The URLs on the list are blocked from being accessed until they can be safely removed from the internet. The IWF works with tech companies, hotlines around the world and law enforcement where appropriate, to have illegal content removed quickly.

Once criminal content has been removed from the internet, the URL will be removed from the list.

Blocking the webpages prevents criminals from profiting from the sharing of child sexual abuse material – and also stops ordinary internet users from accidentally stumbling across criminal material which can be  traumatic to see.

Notes to editors:
*Research carried out by market research company Savanta ComRes. Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,184 British adults who pay rent or have a mortgage aged 18+ online between 28th and 30st October 2022. Data were weighted to be representative of Great Britain by age, sex, region and social grade.

** 35 respondents out of 297 people in this age bracket out of a total of 2,184. (This equates to 35 respondents out of 242 once the data has been ‘weighted’ to be representative of Great Britain by age, sex, region and social grade).

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