As countries have closed schools to contain the pandemic there are warnings that there is an increased risk of children being groomed and coerced online into making explicit images and videos of themselves. A combination of children spending more time at home and on the internet is creating the ‘perfect storm’.
Data gathered by the BBC reveals that demand for imagery has shot up. Europol said it had seen increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material and reports of obscene online material more than doubled globally between March to April 2020.
Childline and the NSPCC have both reported an increase in those seeking support through their helplines.
In addition to the escalating risks posed by online abuse, abuse within households is also thought to be on the up. There is concern that children have been left to isolate alongside their abusers with limited access to those who can keep them safe because so much of life has been behind closed doors. The National Crime Agency said its intelligence indicates there are at least 300,000 people in the UK who posed a sexual threat to children either through physical contact or abuse online.
Schools are having to manage the return of some children, the continued at home schooling of others and whilst doing so must ensure that they continue to safeguard those children including protecting them from online abuse and continuing to identify circumstances where it appears that there are increased risks of a child being abused. Ofsted requires schools to be monitoring online. Government guidance for safeguarding in schools and colleges during Coronavirus lockdown is available here.
The Internet Watch Foundation last year removed 132,700 web pages showing children being sexually abused. The statistics for 2020 will no doubt reflect the impact of the virus. For anyone wanting to understand more about the world of online abuse and the steps being taken to challenge it The Internet Watch Foundation has produced a six-part podcast, Pixels From a Crime Scene, which “lifts the lid on the global scandal of countless child sexual abuse images and videos being shared on the open web every day. The series is an investigation into some of the worst abuse perpetrated against innocent children. We meet the victims, the police, the charities, the experts, and even the criminals at the frontline of this global battle raging behind the screen. Each episode delves deeper into this clandestine world, shining a spotlight on what really goes on online and why images and videos of the sexual abuse of children are still spreading across the web.”
Written by Diana Goldstein at BLM