IICSA -threat of online child sexual abuse a “national and global crisis” – MPs must take action

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation:

The findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) are too important, the warnings too stark, and the victims too many. This report needs to be a real and urgent call to action.

IICSA’s detailed 450-page report into child sexual abuse in England and Wales, published this week, is the result of seven years of incredibly hard work. We applaud everyone, particularly the victims of child sexual abuse themselves, who have spoken out.

Now we must make sure we listen. We must make sure we act.

The Inquiry calls the threat of online child sexual abuse a “national and global crisis”. It warns that there is “no foreseeable end to the growing demand for child sexual abuse imagery” online.

Every day, our hotline analysts see the consequences, and last year they removed more images and videos of children suffering sexual abuse and rape from the internet than ever before.

We are now calling for MPs to rise above the unrest currently dominating Westminster, and to focus on delivering a strong and unequivocal Online Safety Bill to protect children on the internet.

Anything else, we believe, is a failure which risks seeing more and more children victimised and abused. We need to see a clear timetable of when this will be achieved to give victims the confidence that this Bill is still a Government priority.

Children cannot and must not be made to wait while we find a solution. Victims need our protection now. Children suffering with the knowledge images and videos of their sexual abuse may still be being circulated is a horror which must not continue.

We know younger and younger children are being groomed by predators online into abusing themselves, their friends, and even siblings on camera for the gratification of predatory adults who coerce and blackmail them, often with nothing more than a webcam and an internet connection. It is truly a social emergency.

And the children we see being targeted this way are getting younger.

The IWF identified almost 20,000 webpages of child sexual abuse imagery in the first half of 2022 which included so-called “Self-generated” content of 7- to 10-year-old children.

That is nearly 8,000 more instances than the same period last year. And when compared to the first half of 2020, when the UK entered its first Covid lockdown, there’s been a 360% increase in this type of imagery of 7- to 10-year-olds.

This is horrifying – and the message from IICSA is it will only get worse without strong Government commitment.

This Inquiry, and its final report should change the way we talk about child sexual abuse forever.

We need to see language being used in a clear and correct way. We owe it to children not to shy away from or attempt to in any way sanitise the sexual torture and rape many, including babies and toddlers, are being subjected to.

Only then, as a society, can we begin to understand the gravity of this abuse and also help victims talk about what’s happened to them.