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Internet Watch Foundation reacts to ‘terrifying’ child sexual threat figures released by the National Crime Agency

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The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has described as “terrifying” an escalation of the sexual threat posed to children online.

Internet Watch Foundation chief executive Susie Hargreaves. Picture: Keith Heppell
Internet Watch Foundation chief executive Susie Hargreaves. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Histon-based charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of children was reacting to figures released by the National Crime Agency, which assessed that at least 300,000 people may pose a sexual danger to children on the internet.

The figure was from intelligence pre-dating the coronavirus, but the NCA and UK police warn that there may be a spike during the current Covid-19 crisis.

Based on a variety of sources, the NCA believe that a minimum of 300,000 individuals in the UK pose a sexual threat to children either through physical ‘contact’ abuse online.

With most schools closed and children increasingly online, the NCA and National Police Chiefs’ Council are urging children, parents and carers to ensure they know how to stay safe on the internet.

The IWF is responsible for finding and removing images and videos of children being sexually abused from the internet.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF which , said: “This is a terrifying escalation of the threat to our children.

“These numbers are unlike anything before. It’s a genuine threat to our children right now. Parents may think that, because their child is at home, they are safe but sadly that just not always the case.”

The NCA and UK policing relentlessly fight the online child sexual abuse threat, arresting more than 500 child sex offenders and safeguarding around 700 children each month.

Ms Hargreaves explained about a third of all known child sexual abuse material found on the internet by the IWF has been been posted by the child themselves, having been groomed and coerced into making and sharing explicit images and videos.

More than three-quarters of the material features 11 to 13-year-old children, the majority of whom are girls.

“It is horrifying to think sexual predators are viewing the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to exploit a captive audience of children, who are spending more time at home on their devices,” said Ms Hargreaves.

“It’s a stark reminder of why the IWF’s work is more important than ever. We are working through the coronavirus outbreak so that anyone who stumbles across child sexual abuse material on the internet can do the right thing and report it to us. It’s anonymous, and it helps us get rid of those images and videos.

“Our hotline team, which assesses this material, are working from the office as normal. As these figures show, more than ever, we need people to step up to help us keep children safe online and, more than ever, we need people to be thoughtful and responsible on the internet.”

In 2019, the IWF team of 13 analysts processed a record 260,400 repots, of which 132,700 were confirmed to be webpages of children being sexually abused, equating to millions of images and videos.

Giving consideration to the current climate with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, Rob Jones, NCA director of threat leadership, said: “Child sexual abuse remains a priority threat for the agency at this difficult time.

“Though we are working around the virus like everyone else, we are continuing to pursue high-risk online offenders to ensure they are arrested and children are safeguarded.

“The internet has undeniable benefits to society.

“But it’s also enabled a section of society to commit increasingly horrific crimes against children through grooming, live-streaming and distribution of indecent images.

“Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there is masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children.

“We are redoubling our efforts to promote our online safety messages to children, parents, carers and teachers and are working with partners to keep children safe.

“We have long said that we want the tech industry to do more to protect children.

“The advice and activities on our Thinkuknow website are really important and easily built into home-schooling programmes.”

For advice about online child safety visit Thinkuknow.co.uk.

To anonymously report images and videos of online child sex abuse go to report.iwf.org.uk/en.

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