Child abuse images: more action must be taken for children

Around half a million men in the UK may have viewed child sexual abuse images online

We're calling on the government to implement a tough action plan to tackle the supply of, and demand for, child sexual abuse images online.

Around half a million men in the UK today may have viewed child sexual abuse images online - far larger than previous estimates - as revealed in our new report, "Online child sexual abuse images: tackling demand and supply".

The government, law enforcement, internet companies and others have done valuable work to tackle the creation and distribution of online child sexual abuse images. But the scale and urgency of the challenge demands further action.

While it's vital to tackle the problem collectively, we must focus our efforts on preventing the issues that lead to the creation of child sexual abuse images in the first place.

We're demanding:

  • annual audits of the current self-regulatory framework
  • annual transparency reports on the identification and removal of child abuse images accessed in the UK.

The scale of the problem



  • the total number of URLs hosting child sexual abuse images is currently unknown
  • 68,000 URLs hosting child sexual abuse imagery were identified and removed by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and its partners last year
  • this is an 118% increase from the previous year.

In the UK:

  • in the past 5 years the number of police recorded offences for obscene publications has more than doubled in all 4 nations of the UK to a total of 8,745 last year.

But, we don't know just how big the problem is or how many children are affected. This data only tells us how many images have been found, or how many offenders have been caught. 

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said:
"The sheer numbers of people viewing child sexual abuse images online must be addressed as a social emergency.

"It's 2 years since Government made it a national priority to rid the internet of these vile crimes against children, but today's report reveals how horrifyingly prolific the problem remains.

"We recognise that progress has been made. For example, the work of the National Crime Agency and the police has safeguarded record numbers of victims and arrested hundreds of suspects in the UK. And industry is working with partners such as the IWF to identify and remove child sexual abuse images online. But these efforts alone won't solve the problem."

Report illegal content

If you know of an explicit image of a child, report it to the Internet Watch Foundation.

They work with the police to remove images from the internet.

Make a report

What we're calling for:


  • an independent annual audit of the current self-regulatory framework to ensure its effectiveness
  • the government to produce an annual transparency report on the identification and removal of child abuse images accessed from within the UK.

The NSPCC's recommendations

 In addition, the NSPCC is proposing a number of recommendations to further address the issue:

  • we need to continue to work together and place a focus on prevention at the heart of our work
  • we're working towards ensuring that every child has the "right to remove" self-generated sexualised images - partnership working will be vital to this
  • more research is needed as well as a better, actionable understanding of what can prevent offending behaviour. This includes insights relating to both the individual and the online environment. The NSPCC are playing their part by commissioning research in this area
  • evidence suggests there is a journey from viewing pornography with young looking models that can escalate to viewing illegal child sexual abuse images. More needs to be done to address this
  • organisations, like the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, working to provide interventions with offenders and potential offenders with the aim of changing their behaviours provide an invaluable and under-resourced service. The NSPCC welcomes further focus on this aspect of prevention.

Peter Wanless

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said:
"The internet can be a magical place for children. It should play a part in a child's learning, in positive development and discovery. But the reality is that in its darkest corners terrible crimes are being committed against children.

"Now is the time for us to challenge ourselves to end the scourge of child sexual abuse images in the UK, and to work together so that we all play our part protecting our children."


  1. In the past 5 years the number of police recorded offences for 'Obscene Publications' have more than doubled in all 4 nations of the UK. In England the number increased by 134% to 7,324 between 2010/11 and 2014/15. In Wales the number increased by 184% to 587. In Scotland the number increased by 168% to 603 recorded offences. In Northern Ireland the number increased by 292% to 231 recorded offences. These figures are the maximum number of possible offences which have been recorded in relation to indecent images of children. Some of these offences will relate to adults, but we don't know how many. The Obscene Publications Act covers both online and offline material. However the way the data is collected by the police prevents us from splitting out online and offline offences. Source: NSPCC (2016) How Safe Are Our Children? Indicator 9: Online Safety

  2. The estimate is based on the findings of Dombert et al (2016), a German study that assessed male self-reported sexual interest in pre-pubescent children (aged 12 or younger). If we apply the same level of self-report data to the male UK population as Dombert et al (2016) identify in their study, using standard statistical techniques, this would equate to an estimate that there may be between 450,000 and 590,000 males aged 18-89 in the UK who have at some point viewed and used child sexual abuse images. For a full breakdown of how these figures were arrived at see the section of the report titled "Evidence of the scale of the challenge" (pg 19).

  3. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is the UK hotline for reporting criminal online content, where reports are confidential and can be made anonymously. This specifically includes child sexual abuse content that is hosted anywhere in the world, criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK as well as non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK. Source: IWF Annual Report 2015

  4. This figure differs significantly from previous estimates that have been published in the UK. Previously, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre estimated that approximately 50,000 UK-based individuals were involved in downloading and sharing indecent images of children during 2012. The National Crime Agency (NCA) is working with academic and other partners (including the NSPCC) to develop a methodology that will review the previous estimate, seeking to quantify the scale and prevalence of UK online offending.