• Thursday, May 30, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Children groomed at home through phones, charity warns

Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the IWF, said, “The opportunistic criminals who seek to manipulate your children into disturbing acts of sexual abuse are not a distant threat.”

The IWF reported a record amount of material discovered last year, with 275,652 web pages containing such imagery. (Representational image from iStock)

By: Vivek Mishra

A charity has sounded the alarm over children as young as three being groomed for “disturbing acts” via phones and tablets at home.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) revealed that in 2023, they uncovered 2,401 “self-generated” images and videos of child abuse, focusing on children aged between three and six.

Analysts observed instances of abuse occurring in domestic settings, ranging from bathrooms and bedrooms to kitchens and dining rooms.

In the background of images depicting some of the most severe forms of sexual abuse, they noted the presence of soft toys, games, books, and bedding adorned with cartoon characters.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, chief executive of the IWF, said: “The opportunistic criminals who want to manipulate your children into disturbing acts of sexual abuse are not a distant threat – they are trying to talk to them now on phones and devices you can find in any family home.

“If children under six are being targeted like this, we need to be having age-appropriate conversations, now, to make sure they know how to spot the dangers. A whole society approach is needed..

Security minister, Tom Tugendhat said: “This deeply disturbing report shows that predators are targeting younger and younger victims. My message to parents is to speak to your children about their use of social media, because the platforms you presume safe may pose a risk.

He urged technology companies to enhance safeguards to prevent abuse and to collaborate with authorities to ensure children’s safety. “It’s vital that technology companies implement stronger safeguards to prevent abuse, and work with us to bring predators to justice and keep our children safe,” he said.

The IWF, a non-profit organisation dedicated to combating child sexual abuse online, reported a record amount of material discovered last year, with 275,652 web pages containing such imagery.

Secretary of State for Science, Technology and Innovation Michelle Donelan said, “As this shocking report shows, there is truly no time to lose to keep our children safe online.

“We are one of the first countries in the world to put in place laws which will protect children from illegal, harmful, and age-inappropriate content. This is a vital step in protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse and achieving our shared goal of making the UK the safest place to be online,” he said.

The analysis shows there was a 22 per cent increase in webpages containing Category A child sexual abuse material found in 2023, rising from 51,369 URLs in 2022, to 62,652 in 2023. This makes 2023 the most extreme year on record.

The trend for the past three years has seen increases in Category A material: between 2021 and 2023, the IWF has seen a 38% increase in Category A imagery.

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