The Internet Watch Foundation recorded a major spike in criminal activities that sees predators targeting children online.
Images of young children performing sexual acts on camera have increased more than tenfold since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, according to new research.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) claims that its data demonstrates how predators profited from the pandemic in 2020, which resulted in the skyrocketing of social media use worldwide, the BBC reported.
“During the pandemic, the internet was a lifeline but we are only now unpacking the full effects,” said IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves.
“What is clear to us is that younger children are being pulled into abusive situations by rapacious predators, often while they are in their own bedrooms.”
The United Kingdom-based IWF keeps track of, investigates, and works to remove tens of thousands of instances of child sexual abuse content from websites all around the world.
The group asserts that since reporting levels have been largely constant over the previous few years, it is certain that the present surge in self-generated content is the result of increased activity.
Two-thirds of the footage examined by analysts now consists of self-generated child abuse videos and photos.
This is in reference to pictures of youngsters forced by a predator online to sexually abuse themselves. According to researchers, a lot of the films are shot or livestreamed from bathrooms or bedrooms with background noises from a busy home.
They are frequently carried out over live chat and secretly recorded by paedophiles for the purpose of sharing and selling.
The IWF organisation claims that it is frequently difficult to tell where the youngsters are from purely from the footage. However, if a school uniform or other identifiers are evident, it reports the cases to the appropriate authorities.
More than 8,000 of the images, which the charity estimates to be of children aged seven to ten, contained what is known as Category A material.
The most extreme type includes imagery of penetrative sexual intercourse, sexual activity with an animal, or sadism.
In one video viewed by IWF researchers, a nine-year-old girl is given instructions by adults via an online platform to engage in sex acts while in her bedroom.
A presumed family member, who is unaware of the abuse occurring, phones and asks her to run a bath for her (presumed) small brother as she is being asked to perform “super dirty” dares over a webcam.
IWF is currently attempting to apply pressure on the UK government to deploy the long-delayed Online Safety Bill to protect children. The bill is designed to hold tech platform executives criminally accountable for any failures to prevent, detect, and delete child sexual abuse and exploitation content.
However, the IWF claims that the majority of the content it processes does not originate in the UK and instead comes from all around the world.
Experts have called out the importance of nurturing a more trusting environment for parent-child bonds to flourish and help curb potential safety concerns online.
“I would advise parents to talk to their children, start having conversations from a young age, in the same way that you would about risks in the world, we need to start educating young people about the risks associated in the online world also,” Dr Ifaf Asghar, a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist at Sidra Medicine, told Doha News.
“We should apply the same approach to online safety in the way that we do to day-to-day safety.”
The expert suggested speaking of personal experiences might help create a more open environment for children to feel safe to share. “I advise parents to model the behaviours they want to see in their children, the same rules and boundaries we are implementing should also apply to us, talk to them about your own experiences online and particularly the use of social media and how it is not always reflective of reality.”
“Talk to them openly, listen to them, don’t judge, ensure that they know that they can always talk to you and come to you for advice especially if they have come across something that has made them feel uncomfortable,” she added.
“Remain calm and understanding because sometimes they may just happen upon these things by accident, and you don’t want to overreact. You don’t want them to be reluctant to come to you.”
The importance of specifying boundaries in households is yet another way of curbing potential only safety risks.
“It’s important to set boundaries and have rules around computer, laptop, gadget, internet use at home. This can include the amount of time that is spent online, timers can also be set up to limit Internet use, not having phones and gadgets at the dinner table, everyone putting their phones/gadgets somewhere overnight, not using them before bedtime as this can impact sleep quality, using the internet in a shared space like the living room so you can monitor,” Dr Asghar told Doha News.
Educating youngsters about online risks, such as how content can be shared online and even used against an individual in an attempt to bully. The impact can be seen as detrimental to one psychological and emotional wellbeing.
“Emphasise the fact that when something is shared online it is out there and they lose control of how many times it can be shared with other people,” the doctor suggested.
“Help them understand what information is private and what they shouldn’t be sharing. This will hopefully give them more of an awareness of what is inappropriate should they be asked to share something like this.”
Speaking on finding the right balance between proper parental monitoring and avoiding being too controlling of one’s child’s life, Dr Asghar said: “Safety measures can be set up to limit children from accessing harmful content online , and I encourage and advise this, but its also important to be aware the younger generation is tech savvy and can find ways to get round this, which is why it’s important to talk to them and ensure that they are able to make good decisions for themselves and ensure their own safety.”
“If you feel your child’s behaviour has changed around internet use, ask for help, it’s important to act on the warning signs if you feel concerned.”