The IICSA Final Report has highlighted the prevalence and seriousness of online child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse has and still goes underreported, but this is even more so when a child is abused online.
Online abuse is multifaceted. Not only is it adults contacting children through online games and chatrooms but also peer-on-peer abuse. This means that there needs to be a multifaceted response.
To prevent online abuse, IICSA has recommended that there is strict age verification and pre-screening.
IICSA concluded that the risk of being groomed online was “particularly acute” for children aged under 13. Those aged 11-13 also featured prominently in images and live-streamed child sexual abuse.
Social media sights require users to be aged 13 or over to set up accounts and most state that they have age verification in place. However, children under 13 are creating accounts with ease as often the age verification process is just entering a date of birth. Morgan (a research participant) said that she accessed online teenage dating sites at 11 by lying about her age.
IICSA recommends that the UK government legislates to require online providers to implement “stringent age verification measures”.
This is a measure that, if implemented correctly, will prevent child sexual abuse material from being uploaded to platforms and social media sites in the first place. The software scans material that is going to be uploaded and will not allow known images of child abuse to be uploaded. This is what Apple had proposed with NeuralHash (see previous blog).
As the Online Safety Bill continues its oft delayed route through parliament it will be interesting to see whether the government legislates on these recommendations to ensure they are implemented.
These recommendations are key but it cannot be ignored that education on internet safety for children and adults that care for them is crucial. IICSA spoke to young research participants who didn’t realise that they could be groomed and abused online. Additionally, many participants felt that their parents were not fully aware of the risks that were posed by the internet and social media. There are resources such as ‘Parents Protect’ and the ‘UK Safer Internet Centre’ that promote protection of children online and education for parents and carers. However, more needs to be done to make parents aware of these websites so they can be informed on how to protect their child from online sexual abuse.