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Sexual Abuse Imagery Of Girls Online Skyrocket During Pandemic Lockdowns

In 2021, the Internet Watch Foundation removed over 250,000 web pages containing child sexual abuse imagery, 97 per cent featuring girls.

Fingers tapping on a keyboard. Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 –  Sexual abuse imagery of girls is increasingly being shared online with almost all (97 per cent) child sexual abuse material identified in 2021 showing female children, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a UK non-profit responsible for finding and removing child sexual abuse from the internet.

This is a significant increase from a decade ago when 65 per cent of the images and videos it took action to remove included girls.

IWF analysts investigated 361,062 reports over the last year, including tip offs from the public, of suspected criminal material. Out of the total figure, 360,834 were reports of web pages and the remaining 228 were reports of newsgroups (internet discussion groups). 

This is more than the Foundation dealt with in the entire first 15 years of their existence; from 1996 to 2011 they assessed 335,558 reports. The figure is also a 20 per cent increase from 2020.

In 2021, the IWF took action to remove a record-breaking 252,194 web pages which it confirmed contained sexual abuse images or videos of children, having links to the imagery, or advertising it.  This equates to millions of individual images and videos. Around 242,000 featured female victims.

These findings are detailed in IWF’s 2021 annual report, which highlighted the increasingly gendered nature of the child sexual abuse imagery being uploaded and shared online.

According to the annual report, sexual abuse imagery of children aged 11-13 is most prevalent, accounting for almost seven in ten instances identified last year. 

Six in ten reports included the sexual abuse of an 11-13 year old girl who has been groomed, coerced or encouraged into sexual activities by someone who is not in the room with the girl. They’ve accessed the child via a camera-and-internet-enabled device.

“It’s concerning to see how not only are the reports of child sexual abuse imagery online greater than what we’ve seen before, there’s been an increasing trend by offenders online sharing sexual material of girls,” said  Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, in a statement.

Hargreaves said the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns have created a “new normal” with sexual abusers exploiting people who have shifted their lives online.

“Living online has become the new normal. Unfortunately, this means more children are at risk. Sexual abusers will target children – girls in particular – and manipulate them into performing sexual acts on camera.

“These images are then shared across the internet, with the devastating result of re-victimising the child every time these images are viewed.  

“Sadly, we are seeing the targeting of girls accelerating. The latest figures are a stark reflection of the society we live in.”

72 per cent of the child sexual abuse imagery was from URLs hosted in Europe, while 17 per cent was traced to North America and 7 per cent was hosted in Asian countries.

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