Child abuse offenses in the UK have soared, NSPCC | report shows Internet safety

Police have recorded a surge in child abuse offenses in the UK, with more than 30,000 reported in the most recent year, according to a report by the NSPCC.

This is an increase of more than 66% on figures from five years ago, when police forces across the country recorded 18,574 such offences.

The charity warned that the rise was partly due to the “pervasive” issue of young people being asked to share images of their own abuse, with tech companies failing to stop offenders using their sites to “organise, commit and to share sexual relations with children abuse”.

But better police record-keeping, greater awareness of abuse and survivors feeling more confident about coming forward can also contribute to higher numbers of offenses being recorded, the NSPCC added.

“These new figures are incredibly worrying, but they only reflect the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online,” said Sir Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC.

“We are hearing from young people who feel powerless and frustrated as online sexual abuse risks becoming normalized for a generation of children.”

In those cases where a social media or gaming site was listed alongside the breach, only two companies were responsible for more than three-quarters of the reports: Snapchat, with more than 4,000 incidents, and Meta, whose three flagship apps – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – reported more than 3,000 incidents. The company’s Oculus “metaverse” brand was mentioned in one report, with virtual reality in general mentioned seven times.

The experience of teenager Roxy Longworth shows how fighting the problem can require coordination between corporate rivals. She was 13 when she was contacted on Facebook by a boy four years her senior who forced her to send images via Snapchat. He passed the photos on to his friends and a pattern of blackmail and manipulation led Roxy to send even more photos to another boy, which were then shared publicly on social media.

“I sat on the floor and cried,” Roxy said. “I had lost all control and there was no one to talk to about it. I blocked him on everything and prayed he wouldn’t show anyone the pictures because of how young I was.

“After that, I waited to see what would happen. Eventually someone in my year sent me some of the photos and that’s when I knew they were out.”

In a statement, a Meta spokesperson said: “This appalling content is prohibited on our apps and we report cases of child sexual exploitation in [the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children].

“We are leading the industry in developing and deploying technology to prevent and take down this content and are working with the police, child safety experts and industry partners to tackle this social issue. Our work in this area is never done and we will continue to do everything we can to keep this content out of our apps.”

Jacqueline Beauchere, global head of platform safety at Snapchat, said: “Any form of child sexual abuse is abhorrent and illegal. We have dedicated teams around the world working closely with the police, experts and industry partners to combat it. When we proactively detect or become aware of any sexual content that exploits minors, we immediately remove it, delete the account and report the perpetrator to the authorities. Snapchat has additional protections that make it harder for younger users to discover and communicate with strangers.”

The NSPCC, which compiled the data from freedom of information requests sent to police forces across the UK, says the data demonstrates the need for a “child safety advocate” to be included in the next iteration of internet safety bill when it returns to parliament.

The proposal would give the ombudsman the power to intervene directly with Ofcom, the internet regulator, on behalf of children online, “to ensure appropriate redress against well-resourced industry interventions”, the NSPCC says.

“By creating a child safety advocate who stands up for children and families, the government can ensure that the online safety bill systematically prevents abuse,” Wanless added. “It would be unforgivable if in five years we are still playing cover for the rampant abuse that has been allowed to proliferate on social media.”

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