Children in most parts of the world now have access to the enormous power and potential of the Internet. From the biggest and wealthiest global cities to some of the most disadvantaged and inaccessible communities. Access to social networks and the World Wide Web provide young people with incredible opportunities for education, entertainment, entrepreneurship and innovation. The possibilities seem infinite. But along with these opportunities come risks.
Young people are increasingly vulnerable to harmful online interactions. This is in part due to a continuing reduction in the age at which they have access to devices and unsupervised access to social media and online gaming.
One concerning trend is the normalisation of sexual behaviour online. Large numbers of children (and a falling age-range) are sharing self-produced sexualised content or material involving children (including but not limited to sexting and images). This may be through deception and coercion, consensual online activity with an age-appropriate peer, or for social affirmation.
This increases the volume of material available to offenders. It also increases children’s vulnerability to exploitation and abuse by adults as well as cyberbullying by other children. There are cases of organised criminals or scammers targeting children to acquire sexualised images and videos. In addition, contact offenders are able to share child sexual abuse material more rapidly and widely than before.
This intelligence briefing acts as a situational analysis of current perspectives and evidence on the sexual exploitation and abuse of children with disabilities online.
This briefing paper brings together and assesses the currently available material on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on online child sexual exploitation.