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Online sexual offending is changing…

Most of us know that children fall victim to sexual abuse online. But how much do we know about how it happens?

The latest threat report from CEOP (Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre) outlines a number of developments in the way offenders prey on children.

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How kids get “hooked” by offenders…

Here is a quick summary of the major trends and changes in the way Britain’s estimated 50,000 online sexual offenders seek to abuse using the internet:

– Having children take pictures of themselves – around one fifth of all still and moving sexual images of children in the CEOP sample, were taken by the children themselves.

– Most child abuse images are now exchanged for free – the proliferation of such images worldwide, now means that the majority are not paid for by “customers.”

– Payments to poor families overseas – UK-based offenders sometimes make payments to desperately poor people in foreign countries in exchange for having their children perform sexual acts in front of webcams.

– Live streaming of real time sexual abuse – these overseas transactions happen in real time. They are “live” events of child sexual abuse.

– More female abusers – CEOP observed a small increase in the number of adult females involved in the online sexual abuse process. This trend accords with the 2012 threat assessment. It is still the case that the vast majority of abusers are male.

– Quick acceleration from first contact to abuse – the number of potential child victims online is vast. Offenders no longer need to take time seeking out and grooming a few in the hope of an abusive outcome. “The sustained influencing of a child over several months has been largely replaced by rapid escalation to threats, intimidation and coercion.” (CEOP, 2013:10)

– Use of deception and images as tools of coercion – online abusers use deception and trickery to have children take indecent images of themselves. One method is to show potential victims images of other children in sexual scenes over a webcam, in order to convince the child to do the same.


– Social networks are the most abusive forum – file-sharing, peer-to-peer networking and swapping of images via email, etc all still have their place in the online sexual offending repertoire. But social networks are now the majority forum targeted by offenders to seek out child victims. This was the case in 48.5% of offending occasions reported to CEOP.

– Friends are not friends – 25% of the “friends” that 12 to 15 year olds have on social networking sites are unknown to them in the real world. One third of 12 to 15 year olds admitted communicating online with people they don’t know. The opportunities for abuse in this context are legion.

– Online chat and instant messaging – were the second most used forum, with 31.5% of reported offending events occurring via these routes.

– Increase in moving abuse images of younger children – there is an increasing trend towards younger children being drawn into producing moving images of themselves and sharing these online.

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Final thoughts…

The internet is a wonderful thing. It’s amazing. In the wrong hands, however, can be a mechanism for great harm.

Whilst only a third of the world’s population has access to the internet, in the UK the figure is 73.2%. We have a responsibility as professionals, parents and caring adults generally, to ensure that children are kept safe online.

Complacency and ignorance are the biggest enemies of online safeguarding…

What do you think?…

This is just a summary and so is far from being definitive. You can read the whole report from CEOP here.

– Do you have additional insights/opinions to offer about online abuse?

– How do you think we can better deal with the abuse of children online?

– What resources have you discovered to help parents/carers/children stay safe online?

– Should online safety form part of PSE curricula in schools, for example?

Please let me know what your thoughts are. Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

– Conference for all those concerned about and working to prevent sexual abuse…

– Child protection from pornography goes way beyond Internet Service Providers…

– What works in preventing and treating sexual abuse?…

Pass it on…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013

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