Online sex abuse of primary school children increases over 1000% since pandemic – How far will the Online Safety Bill protect them?

It is a shocking and deeply sad fact that thousands of children ranging from new-borns to teenagers are targeted and subjected to horrific sexual abuse every day in this country. Here, Solicitor Nikki Bradley looks at the dangers children are being exposed to online and how the Online Safety Bill may make a difference.

Online forums and social media platforms are saturated with child sexual predators. Many of these people “catfish” their victims by hiding behind pseudonyms and falsifying information about their lives including their ages, backgrounds, appearance and gender. This is all done in the hope of maximising their chances of abusing vulnerable children which, as a result of the pandemic and increased popularity of remote platforms and social media technology, has caused online child sex abuse to skyrocket.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) are a charity whose sole aim is to eliminate online sex abuse of children by finding and removing all traces of this material. On 27th January 2023, IWF published stark and harrowing findings. Their research shows that since 2019 the number of sex abuse images of children aged 7-10 distributed online has increased by 1,058%.

Do we really know what dangers children are being exposed to online?

Our reliance on the digital world seems to have become normal post pandemic. Many primary school children now have iPads, smart phones, social media accounts but no matter how well we think we are policing it, the IWF statistics speak for themselves.

Online child abuse is not just still happening, it is thriving. Online predators are merciless and are taking full advantage of the fact that children are now regularly using digital platforms to assist their development socially and educationally. In 2022 the IWF found 63,050 reports of children aged 7-10 being tricked and coerced into performing sexual acts on camera, 14% of which were classed as Category A material – the very worst category of abuse.

Will the Online Safety Bill make a difference?

The purpose of the Online Safety Bill is to protect children (and adults) from online abuse by making social media companies legally responsible for their safety and increasing accountability for their online content and procedures. It proposes to do this by means such as enforcing age limits, rapidly removing and preventing illegal content for appearing, providing children with clear ways to report online problems and ensuring online risks on the biggest social media platforms are more transparent.

Progress of the Bill through Parliament has recently stalled following a rebellion of more than 50 MPs seeking an amendment introducing a two-year criminal sentence for tech bosses that fail to protect children viewing inappropriate online content. The Culture Secretary has described the criminal liability factor as giving the Bill “additional teeth”. It has since had the final approval of MPs and will now progress through the House of Lords before becoming law.

Final thoughts

It is hoped that this Bill will make a real difference to child online safety. The world appears to be live to the risks children face online and the UK is taking action to protect young people. However, the dangers of the internet extend far beyond TikTok and Instagram which comprise merely the surface of the digital world as we know it.

Whilst the Bill certainly appears a strong move in the right direction to keeping children safe from harm, it will not affect the vast expanse of the dark web which will continue to shield and anonymise thousands of online predators whilst also distributing their harmful content. Much more thought needs to be given as to how we can tackle the abuse of children in the “hidden” internet and how we can better police under the surface child sex abuse activity.

If you need advice on this topic, or any other matters concerning divorce or family law, please get in touch with our team at McAlister Family Law.


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