Lockdowns linked to whopping tenfold rise in online child maltreatment

Sexually explicit imagery, both audio and video, of very young children has risen more than ten times since the pandemic lockdowns in the United Kingdom, new data shows.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) says that since 2019, it has seen a 1,058% increase in the number of webpages showing sexual abuse images and videos of children aged 7-10 who had been coached to perform these acts – usually by predators who had contacted the kids online.

The number of disturbing images has shot up through 2020-2021 when the UK entered three lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic, and millions of people, including primary schoolchildren, had to stay home.

According to the IWF, a British organization that tracks down and removes videos and imagery of child sexual abuse online, internet predators have exploited the situation as, nowadays, most children rely on the web to learn, socialize, and play.

Last year, the IWF logged more than 63,000 web pages showing abusive material compared to 5,000 before the pandemic.

Of the imagery made of 7-10-year-olds in 2022, 14 percent (8,930 URLs) contained Category A material. This is the most severe kind of material and can include penetrative sexual activity, images involving sexual activity with an animal, or sadism.

“During the pandemic, the internet was a lifeline. But we are only now unpacking the full effects. 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,” said Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive of the IWF.

“Their parents are often unaware there is this online backdoor into their homes which is leaving their children vulnerable. I fear this could be the tip of the iceberg.”

The imagery is disturbing, to say the least, and is recorded or live-streamed from bedrooms or bathrooms, often with the sounds of a busy household in the background. The children often do not know they’re being recorded, and the pedophiles also share and sell images to like-minded perverts online.

Needless to say, these children are also revictimized every time the footage of the abuse is shared on the web. The IWF is urging the authorities to act now and ensure that the problem does not become endemic.

“This includes continuing to invest in programs and prevention strategies that prevent children from becoming victims of child sexual abuse, protect the public from predators, and the pursuit of bringing offenders to justice,” Hargreaves said.

The House of Commons of the UK has recently passed the Online Safety Bill, which proposes to jail tech executives for failing to stop material harmful to children from spreading online.

In late 2022, Interpol’s first-ever Global Crime Trend Report said that online child abuse is one of the biggest concerns to law enforcement worldwide – together with money laundering, ransomware, phishing, and scams.

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