One in three explicit images of children are selfies, watchdog finds

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About a third of explicit images of children found online by an internet watchdog are selfies, new figures show.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) took action over 124,605 images of child abuse found online between January and November 2019, of which 37,112,  or 30%, were self-generated.

More than three quarters of these images, 29,100 or 78%, featured children aged 11 to 13, most of whom were girls.

The IWF and charity Marie Collins Foundation (MCF), that supports survivors of abuse, are calling on young men who find images or videos on porn sites that they believe may be of underage victims, to anonymously report what they have found.

One victim, who wishes to be identified only as Rhiannon, was sexually assaulted at the age of 13 in her own home, a day after being groomed by a fake modelling scout online.

She said: “In my situation, if the images that I’d sent to the perpetrator that evening had been reported and I was identified, I could have been safeguarded before the man came to my house, and that would have prevented me from being sexually assaulted.

“It’s easy to think that an image is something that has already happened, but you don’t know the circumstances.

“For some people it could be ongoing. A report could lead to them being taken out of that situation.”

Under UK law, anyone can be prosecuted for taking, sharing or possessing explicit images of under-18s.

Chief executive of the IWF, Susie Hargreaves, said the number of children being tricked or blackmailed into generating indecent images online is “fast becoming a national crisis”.

She said: “Today’s data demonstrates the alarming rate at which self-generated imagery is increasing, especially among young girls – often in domestic settings.

“These are images and videos where girls have been groomed, coerced and tricked into performing sexually over webcam, what is fast becoming a national crisis.

Chief executive of the IWF Susie Hargreaves
Chief executive of the IWF Susie Hargreaves (Internet Watch Foundation/PA)

“While we’re working to prevent images from being taken in the first place, efforts to halt the spread of the ones in circulation, by encouraging young men to anonymously report any they may unintentionally stumble upon, is an important and much-needed step to help tackle the issue.

“Young men might be at risk of stumbling across this content as a result of having unprecedented access to sexual content online – but they can also be the heroes that help us save many more victims of child sexual abuse.”

The IWF works to get images of child abuse removed from the internet and is in contact with law enforcement agencies across the world.

Chief executive of the Marie Collins Foundation, Tink Palmer, said: “Online sexual abuse is not a victimless crime.

“The children in these images and videos are real and they are harmed every time the content is viewed and shared.

“All internet users need to understand that they are breaking the law if they view this material, regardless of who has taken or uploaded it.

“Everyone can play their part in ridding the internet of this scourge by reporting illegal images and, ultimately, in protecting children.”

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