Putting online sexual abuse in the spotlight

We must ensure that children are given the same protection online as they are offline, says Peter Wanless

Teenage girl on laptop

The online world offers many opportunities for children and young people, allowing them to access and interact with content like never before.

But as technology develops, so do the risks and potential threats to children's safety.

It's vital that we give them the tools and support they need to stay safe.

Growing concern about online sexual abuse

We've seen an increase in the number of contacts from both children and concerned adults about online child sexual abuse.

Figures taken from our new report show:

  • three quarters (650) of contacts to the NSPCC helpline about online issues in 2015/16 related to online sexual abuse
  • 41% of these contacts were serious enough to result in a referral to an external agency
  • we've seen a 250% increase in Childline counselling sessions about online sexual abuse in the past 3 years.

Data in the report comes from 3 helplines: the NSPCC helpline for adults, Childline, and the O2 & NSPCC Online Safety Helpline.

Understanding the link between online and offline harmful sexual behaviour

Emma Belton and Vicki Hollis ask if there's a link between young people viewing child sexual abuse images online and contact sexual offending.
Read our blog

Educating children about the risk

For some children, viewing sexually explicit content is a normal part of their development as they become curious to learn more about sex.

However some can be upset or distressed by what they see, and it can confuse their perceptions of normal relationships.

For other children, viewing this type of content may lead to them being persuaded to share images of themselves or even take part in sexual activities online and offline.

Children and young people need help to recognise the potential dangers of what they see online. And it's important to equip them with the right skills and resilience to cope with the darker side of what they come across on the internet.

Online protection is everyone's responsibility

It's everyone's responsibility to ensure children are given the same protection in the online world as they are offline.

It's important that parents, and those working with children, increase their own understanding of both the benefits of the internet and the risks it poses for children and young people.

Talking to children about online safety from an early age will help build greater resilience and best practice.

Keeping children safe online course

Online training to help you understand how children use the internet and other digital technology. Cost: £30.

More on this course

Our calls to government

We're calling on the government to expand the powers of the age verification regulator relating to pornographic sites as part of the Digital Economy Bill.

We want decision makers to:

  • ensure that pornography sites that don't comply with UK law are blocked by internet service providers
  • ensure that all pornography providers are captured in the Bill - including social networks, peer-to-peer services and non-commercial sites
  • develop a code of practice that sets out minimum standards for the types of content children shouldn't access as well as how providers must work with parents and law enforcement to keep children safe.

Read our latest reports

What should I do? NSPCC helplines report about online safety

Our report explores how Childline, the NSPCC helpline and O2 are responding to children's and parents' concerns about sexual content online.

Download the report

A review of the research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour online (HSB)

A review of current research around the online harmful sexual behaviours displayed by children and young people.

Read the review

Learn more about online abuse

Online abuse

Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, playing online games or using mobile phones. 
Read more about online abuse

Online safety

We’ve teamed up with O2 to help you keep children safe when they're using the internet, social networks, apps, games and more.
Online safety advice

Call Online Safety Helpline

Have a question about parental controls or concern about a new social network children use? Whatever it is, our expert advisors are here to help.

0808 8005002

Donate now

Last year a third of all calls to our helpline were about neglect, a figure that's even higher at Christmas. Donate now and help shine a light on children left in the dark.

Make a donation