Over 75% of people believe children are at significant risk of sexual abuse when using VR technology

Our new research shows that children are at risk of experiencing sexual abuse and exploitation when using immersive technology such as VR headsets.

Today, we have released a new study highlighting how virtual reality is putting children at risk of experiencing sexual abuse and exploitation.

We commissioned our new research from Limina Immersive to assess what present and future risks children may face when using virtual reality. It illustrates the abuse and harm children are already facing in these virtual spaces.

This research is going to be presented to politicians, government officials, and charity partners at parliament today.

Today, the research and its recommendations will be presented to those influencing the Online Safety Bill. The Bill emphasises the important role of regulation in tackling child sexual abuse online and is being debated in the House of Lords this week. 

YouGov poll results

We commissioned a YouGov poll that asked 1723 adults about children's online safety. 

  • 75% of people believe 6-12 year olds are at major or significant risk of sexual abuse in VR immersive spaces
  • 80% of people believe 13-16 year olds are at major or significant risk of sexual abuse in VR immersive spaces

This poll shows that the public are concerned about the risks children might face in VR immersive spaces

Research key findings

  • VR multi-user spaces provide opportunities for people to sexually abuse and exploit children
  • VR technologies can cause people to experience "phantom touch". This is where the brain fills in the gaps in sensory input and causes the body to experience sensations similar to physical touch. This means children who experience VR sexual abuse might experience the physical sensation of being touched without their consent. 
  • People are using games that simulate sexually abusing a child on the dark web and through private networks, so they can simulate abusing children online the way they would offline.
  • VR multi-user spaces can desensitise people by allowing themselves to use avatars to disguise their appearance. 
  • Multi-user VR spaces invite the creation of communities for sharing child sexual abuse material, allowing abusers to meet other people with similar interests and create networks. 

Worried about a child?

Find out more

Our recommendations

We are supplying recommendations for technology companies, the government, regulators and law enforcement agencies on how to address abuse that takes place in VR spaces. 

  • Technology companies must make sure immersive environments are safe for children by design. They must include strong child-safety features and reporting systems. 
  • Ofcom should work closely with other UK regulatory bodies to develop clear guidance on how VR technology platforms must assess and respond to the risks to child safety on their products. 
  • The government must provide more guidance, funding, and learning opportunities to law enforcement on how to deal with VR and simluated offences
  • The government must review the Online Safety Bill on a rolling basis to ensure that emerging harms are adequately covered under the law.

Richard Collard, Head of Child Safety Online Policy at the NSPCC, said:

“These shocking findings should be a wake-up call to us all about the harm young people are facing when engaging with immersive technology.

“Technology will continue to progress, and so must we to ensure that we can understand the existing and emerging risks that young people face in these virtual spaces.

“As the Online Safety Bill completes its passage through Parliament, it is vital that new and emerging technology forms a crucial part of the online safety regime. This will only be made possible through clear collaboration between educators, parents, policymakers, and the technology industry.”


Avatar: a character that the user inhabits in VR and AR spaces. An avatar can represent a user in real life or be a persona. Users sometimes build a backstory for persona avatars. They are usually highly customisable.

The Metaverse: There is not always agreement about what does and does not count as a ‘metaverse’. It is still very much an emerging and evolving term. A basic defnition would describe it as the ‘3D internet’. Using VR or AR can often feel like the user’s body is ‘entering’ the internet.

Multi-user spaces: virtual spaces experienced by large numbers of people at the same time, connecting from anywhere in the world.

Phantom touch: the psychological feeling of touch in VR whereby the brain ‘flls in the gaps’ and believes the person is experiencing physical touch.

VR: Virtual Reality



  • We commissioned Limina Immersive to research the risk of child sexual abuse in emerging technologies to help identify how these risks might be effectively reduced. Child Safeguarding & Immersive Technologies aims to inform readers on the harms to children identified on the metaverse, and support conversations around the necessary interventions needed to reduce risks to children in immersive environments.
  • The research involves two papers: Child Safeguarding & Immersive Technologies: Key Concepts and Child Safeguarding & Immersive Technologies: An Outline of the Risks.
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1723 adults in UK who consented to answer questions about children's online safety. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26-27 April 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).