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.

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.

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.