THE DARK SIDE OF THE SELFIE

Photo by Kaique Rocha

New data released today1 (15 January 2020) by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), reveals that more than three quarters of the self-generated sexual abuse images of under 18s that have been actioned by the charity from January to November 2019 – which are primarily produced in domestic settings and can include grooming and coercion by adults – feature 11 to 13-year old children. Of the self-generated material featuring girls – be it images or videos – most (80.5%) were aged 11 to 13 years.

Alarmingly, self-generated sexual content featuring under-18s now accounts for nearly a third of all actioned child sexual abuse material online by the IWF. From January to November 2019, the IWF took action on over 37,000 reports that contained self-generated images and videos from the web, depicting criminal imagery of under 18s.

With recent research highlighting that over three quarters (77%)2 of 18 to 25 year old men are watching porn online, the IWF has partnered the Marie Collins Foundation – a charity that supports the recovery of victims of online sexual abuse – to develop a suite of online films that educates young men on the law regarding sexual images of under 18s and, importantly, how to anonymously report any content they think may feature a minor.

The film forms part of both charities’ ambition to educate young men on what to do if they unintentionally stumble across any sexual images or videos that look like they may feature an under 18, so the material can be removed and the harm to victims reduced.

In the UK, an individual can be prosecuted for taking, making, sharing and possessing sexual images of under 18s, even if they thought that the person featured looked older.

Sexual images of a child are a visual record of the abuse they have faced – which can involve the forcing or enticing of a minor (under the age of 18) to take part in sexual activity, whether or not the minor is aware of what is happening. They can vary from photographs, animations, drawings to films.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO, said: “Today’s data demonstrates the alarming rate at which self-generated imagery is increasing, especially among young girls – often in domestic settings. These are images and videos where girls have been groomed, coerced and tricked into performing sexually over webcam, what is fast becoming a national crisis.

There has never been a more poignant time to shine a light on the uncomfortable truth we are now faced with.

While we’re working to prevent images from being taken in the first place, efforts to halt the spread of the ones in circulation by encouraging young men to anonymously report any they may unintentionally stumble upon, is an important and much needed step to help tackle the issue.

Young men might be at risk of stumbling across this content, as a result of having unprecedented access to sexual content online – but they can also be the heroes that help us save many more victims of child sexual abuse.”

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chief’s Council lead on child protection, said: “The sheer scale of indecent and harmful content online means that the police cannot tackle this problem on their own. We have to prioritise and that means pursuing the most dangerous and persistent offenders whose mission is to harm children.

“However, we all have a part to play in making the online world a safer place for everyone. Work like this, which seeks to educate people about the law and encourage them to be responsible, and especially to report any sexual images and videos of under-18s,supports the reduction of crime, the removal of indecent content and, importantly, lessens the harm to victims.”

Tink Palmer MBE, Chief Executive of the Marie Collins Foundation, said: “Online sexual abuse is not a victimless crime. The children in these images and videos are real and they are harmed every time the content is viewed and shared. Survivors have spoken bravely about their experiences to inform the campaign.

The amount of indecent content of under 18s is growing all the time, supported by the speed and ease with which images can be shared. All internet users need to understand that they are breaking the law if they view this material, regardless of who has taken or uploaded it. Everyone can play their part in ridding the internet of this scourge by reporting illegal images and, ultimately, in protecting children.”

Rhiannon, a survivor, who was sexually assaulted by a perpetrator who contacted her via the internet and sexually abused her online and offline when she was 13, is supporting the campaign, said: “I know first-hand what it is like to suffer sexual abuse and the long-term impact it can have on a young person. My message to anyone who comes across online content that they suspect is of someone under-18 is to do the right thing and report it. You could help safeguard that child and save them from further serious harm.”

For more information on the campaign, to view the online films, and for guidance on how and where to report indecent images or videos of under 18s, visit
www.iwf.org.uk/onesimplereport