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Study shows surge in online sexual abuse of young children

New data shows online sexual abuse of children aged between 7 and 10 has increased significantly.

The data, released by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) shows a three-fold increase last year in online sexual abuse and suggests that younger children are being targeted by internet abusers ‘on an industrial scale’. The study shows that 2021 was the worst year on record for child sexual abuse online as lockdown took hold across the country.

The figures show that, in 2021, the IWF took action against 252,000 URLs which it confirmed contained images or videos of children being raped and suffering sexual abuse.

In total last year, IWF analysts investigated 361,000 reports, including tip offs from the public, of suspected criminal material. This is more than they dealt with in the entire first 15 years of their existence when, from 1996 to 2011 they assessed 335,558 reports.

The IWF is warning parents that internet sex predators are targeting and grooming younger children, with a sharp rise in content showing the abuse of children aged between 7 and 10 years old.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said so-called “self-generated material” involving 7-10 year olds has increased as more, and younger, children are spending more time on the internet as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said the internet is an important tool for good in children’s lives, but called for more help for parents to spot and understand the dangers.

Hargreaves said: “Children are being targeted, approached, groomed and abused by criminals on an industrial scale. So often, this sexual abuse is happening in children’s bedrooms in family homes, with parents being wholly unaware of what is being done to their children by strangers with an internet connection.

“Parents need to be supported in knowing how to broach the topic with their children, and to give them the confidence to call out inappropriate behaviour when they see it. We’re pleased to see the Government stepping in to help educate parents, and provide them with ways they can help protect children from this growing problem.”