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New data published by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) shows girls are at increasing risk online

It shows that 97 per cent of all child sexual abuse material identified in 2021 featured the sexual abuse of girls. Ten years ago, only 65 per cent of the imagery analysts saw was of girls.

In 2021 the IWF took action to remove a record-breaking 252,000 URLs which it confirmed contained images or videos of children being raped and/or suffering sexual abuse.

Remove

Of these, the IWF confirmed 182,281 URLs contained images or videos of  ‘self-generated’ material. This is a 374 per cent increase on pre-pandemic levels when, in 2019, analysts took action to remove 38,424 URLs containing self-generated material.

The IWF says the Online Safety Bill, along with efforts to tackle violence against women and girls, is a once in a generation chance to offer better protection for children online.

Exploitation

Experts at the IWF have raised fears that the acceleration of people moving their lives online in the wake of the global Coronavirus pandemic has put children, particularly girls, at greater risk of exploitation.

In total last year, IWF analysts investigated 361,062 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.

 

Report

In its annual report, it finds that sexual abuse imagery of children aged 11-13 is most prevalent, accounting for almost seven in ten instances identified last year.

Six in ten reports included the sexual abuse of an 11-13 year old girl who has been groomed, coerced or encouraged into sexual activities by someone who is not in the room with the girl. They’ve accessed the child via a camera-and-internet-enabled device.

Europe remains the largest hoster of child sexual abuse imagery with 72 per cent being traced to a European country in 2021. A total of 17 per cent was traced to North America and seven per cent traced to Asian countries.

The IWF works with internet companies, governments, and other non-profit organisations around the world to find and remove this imagery.

 

Services

As well as this, they provide a suite of technical tools and services. It has assessed and created more than a million hashes (digital fingerprints) which are shared globally with technology companies to prevent the upload, distribution and storage of child sexual abuse images.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: ‘It’s concerning to see how not only are the reports of child sexual abuse imagery online greater than what we’ve seen before, there’s been an increasing trend by offenders online sharing sexual material of girls.’

‘The Online Safety Bill is a golden opportunity to improve online safety for everyone, particularly women and girls, who our data shows are facing a disproportionate amount of harm online.’