Positive actions regarding children and their use of the internet

In the context of repeated warnings regarding the negative impact of social media on young people the Children’s Commissioner has taken a number of actions to enable children, parents and teachers to have the required information to help children develop the skills and resilience to positively handle themselves online.

The Children Commissioner’s ‘Growing up Digital’ study called for the creation of a compulsory digital citizenship programme for school children aged 4 to 14, introducing simplified Terms and Conditions for digital services offered to children; and a new Children’s Digital Ombudsman to mediate between under 18s and social media companies.

Continue reading

A crisis of modern society? The internet and child sexual abuse

The second hearing of IICSA’s thematic investigation in to child sexual abuse and the internet was focused on the steps being taken by the internet industry and government bodies. By the ‘internet industry’, IICSA means internet service providers, software companies, social media companies, providers of search engines and those who provide email and messaging services and cloud storage. Whilst a number of representatives from the internet industry gave evidence, none of them applied for core participant status. The institutional core participants were the Home Office, the Internet Watch Foundation, the National Crime Agency, the National Police Chief’s Council and the Metropolitan Police Service. There were three complainant core participants who gave evidence of the direct impact on their lives of being abused in connection with the internet.

IICSA summarises online facilitated child abuse as follows:

  • Indecent images of children which may be created, distributed, downloaded and possessed
  • Grooming which can involve sexual communication with a child, arranging and meeting the child following such communication
  • Live streaming of child abuse

Tackling all aspects of online facilitated child abuse is a huge task. In its 2018 Serious & Organised Crime Strategy the Government set out the expectations of internet companies – that they need to be at the forefront of efforts to deny offenders the opportunity to access children and child sexual material via their platforms and services. The internet industry witnesses gave evidence of how they were seeking to do that, some with greater focus and success than others, but the general impression from the hearing was that there was a need for the efforts to be greater and quicker. When IICSA publishes its report in this investigation, expected early next year, it is reasonable to assume there will be a wide range of recommendations that the internet industry should implement. However there is no need to wait for the report as many suggestions and proposals were made from those giving evidence. The perception from the evidence is that the internet industry has been reactive and its needs to be proactive.

We have summarised in the chart below many of the proposal mentioned. It is not just the internet industry which needs to address the problem, but also society as a whole as can be seen for example by the proposals around the need for better education of children, parents and childcare professionals.

The internet is worldwide and that creates additional challenges but also opportunities for greater working together to ensure child safety around the globe. In 1996 18% of the world’s known child sexual abuse imagery was hosted in the UK, since 2003 that has been less than 1% but that does not mean there has been 17% less imagery, it has just moved elsewhere so whilst in 2018 there were only 41 web pages found and removed in the UK, in the Netherlands there were 48,900 such pages. Much of the abuse that is live streamed emanates from South-east Asia however research by IWF in 2018 found that commonly encountered live streaming involved white girls from western backgrounds filmed in a home setting. The need for a co-ordinated approach is clear, governments can seek to work together but the organisations which already have the greatest worldwide reach are the big internet industry professionals.

The evidence given by the individual core participants described how they were abused online (and in one case offline too). The abusers of all three have been given custodial sentences. Those who were abused solely online are not eligible for a payment from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, despite their abuser serving a lengthy sentence. Their counsel noted that there was little or no legal redress open to them, they did not have as the law stands a cause of action against the technology companies which provided the platforms through which the abuse took place.

The Online Harms White Paper, currently out for consultation, proposes the creation of a statutory duty of care. If implemented will that offer a route for redress? Better however would be actions which prevented the abuse from occurring in the first place. Organisations involved with children and those involved in the internet industry should be considering which of the proposals outlined below they can start to action now.

Capture3


jefferson_p_web Written by Paula Jefferson, partner and head of abuse and neglect at BLM

IICSA publishes report on child sexual abuse in custodial institutions

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its report into sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions on the 28 February 2019.

The report follows on from a hearing on 9 – 20 July 2018 and can be found here.

It examines evidence of “appalling abuse and institutional failures to protect children in the youth secure estate in England and Wales”.  The investigation looked at Youth Offenders Institutions (YOI), Secure Training Centres (STC) and Secure Children’s Homes (SCH).

Continue reading

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse announces mandatory reporting seminar

A mandatory reporting seminar will be held on 27 September 2018. Its aim is to gather information and views on whether mandatory reporting should be introduced as a response to child sexual abuse.  The seminar will invite key individuals with valued insight in the subject and will examine the issues, concerns and practical implications of mandatory reporting.  Continue reading

Internet Watch Foundation publishes its Annual Report

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) works to identify and remove online images and videos of child sexual abuse. Their aim is to make the internet a safer place by removing the availability of online sexual abuse content.

On 18 April 2018 they published their 2017 Annual Report, here we look at some of the trends that they have identified and their valuable work in tackling online images of child sexual abuse. Continue reading

Identification and disclosure of child abuse

Identifying child sexual abuse especially in an institutional setting is the first and often most important step in protecting children and preventing its re-occurrence.

It is not sufficient just to educate children to recognise behaviours that constitute sexual abuse, and instruct them to tell someone if they are abused. Instead, adults also need to be attuned to signs of harm in children and equipped to identify signs of possible sexual abuse. Adults and the wider community need to better understand the dynamics of sexual abuse and how to recognise grooming tactics, and to notice emotional and behavioural changes in children.

Continue reading

Managing expectations

Recent developments across the jurisdictions have highlighted the difficulties faced by all those involved in dealing with abuse allegations.  The number and expectations of the different people involved presents significant problems in handling these matters in a professional yet sensitive way.

Continue reading