We’re calling for effective action in the Online Safety Bill as child abuse image crimes reach record levels

66% increase in child abuse image offences recorded by UK police in the past 5 years, our investigation has revealed.1

A young boy in a bedroom, at a laptop, with their head in their hands

Over 30,000 crimes involving the sharing and possession of indecent images of children took place last year (2021/2022), according to freedom of information data obtained from UK police forces.

We believe that unregulated social media is causing this increase of online child sexual abuse. Social media companies are failing to stop their sites being used to organise, commit and share child abuse.

We’re calling on the government to give all children a powerful voice and representation in future regulation by creating a statutory child safety advocate through the Online Safety Bill. This would put children’s experiences at the front and centre of decision making, building safeguarding into regulation and prioritising child protection.

Our research into child abuse images on social media shows:2

  • Snapchat is the site most used to share child abuse images, being used in 43% of cases where a social media site was flagged.
  • Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, which are owned by Meta, were used in 33% of child abuse crimes on social media.
  • For the first time, virtual reality environments, such as the Metaverse which is accessed through Oculus headsets, were found to be involved in child sexual abuse image crimes.

Committing to a statutory child safety advocate is crucial, acting as an early warning system to identify child abuse risks and ensuring they are on the radar of companies and Ofcom. The advocate would reflect the experiences of children and young people and help create an online corporate culture that focuses on preventing abuse.

Holly*, 14, contacted Childline after being groomed online:

“I was talking with this guy online and trusted him. I sent him quite a lot of nude pictures of myself and now he is threatening to send them to my friends and family unless I send him more nudes, or pay him.

“I reported it to Instagram, but they still haven't got back. I don’t want to tell the police because my parents would then know what I did and would be so disappointed.”

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.

Online Safety Bill amendments

We're asking for amendments to the Online Safety Bill as it passes through the House of Lords, to improve its response to child sexual abuse.

We are asking the House of Lords:

  • To back the creation of a child safety advocate, similar to statutory user advocacy arrangements that are effective across other regulated sectors.
  • To give Ofcom access to children's voices and experiences in real-time through an expert child safety advocate, similar to what Citizen's Advice does for energy and postal consumers.
  • To hold tech bosses criminally liable if their sites continue to expose children to preventable abuse. This should be included in the commitment to hold senior managers liable if their products contribute to serious harm to children.

Meta encryption

In response to the latest data, we are renewing calls on Meta to pause plans to roll out default end-to-end encryption of Facebook and Instagram messenger services, to fit with future requirements of the Online Safety Bill.

Meta will make it impossible to identify grooming and the sharing of child sexual abuse images, making the introduction of a child safety advocate even more important. 

The Online Safety Bill should be seen as an opportunity to encourage companies to invest in technological solutions to end-to-end encryption that protect adult privacy and keep children safe.

NSPCC Chief Executive, Sir Peter Wanless, said:


“These new figures are incredibly alarming, but reflect just the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online.

“We hear from young people who feel powerless and let down as online sexual abuse risks becoming normalised for a generation of children.

“By creating a child safety advocate that stands up for children and families, the government can ensure the Online Safety Bill systemically prevents abuse.

“It would be inexcusable if in 5 years time we are still playing catch-up to pervasive abuse that has been allowed to proliferate on social media.”


    • We sent Freedom of Information requests to all 43 police forces in England and Wales and received data from PSNI and Police Scotland relating to recorded offence of indecent images of children. 41 forces provided useable data for 2021/22. From the data provided there were 30,925 recorded offences. 45 forces provided useable data for 2016/17 amounting to 18,575 offences, a 66% increase over five years from 2016/17 to 2021/22.
  1. In 2021/22 the total number of instances where a social media or gaming site was recorded by the police in an offence was 9,888 times. Of these Snapchat was recorded 4,293 times, Facebook 1,361, Instagram 1,363 and WhatsApp 547