Online sex predators are grooming growing numbers of young children to abuse themselves on camera – with cases up 1,000 per cent since the pandemic, investigators found.
In one video, they discovered, a nine-year-old girl was being cajoled into ‘super dirty’ dares over a webcam in her bedroom, surrounded by cuddly toys. It ended when a family member asked her to run a bath for a sibling.
Two ten-year-old boys were seen speaking to a camera and being told by adults to perform sexual acts in return for a reward.
In another case, a girl of ten was encouraged by online ‘followers’ to abuse herself – only to be foiled when her shocked mum stormed in and confiscated the phone.
The Internet Watch Foundation saw a 1,058 per cent increase in the number of web pages showing sexual abuse images and self-recorded videos of children aged seven to ten. It recorded 63,050 reports related to self-generated sexual abuse imagery of children in 2022, compared with 5,443 in 2019.
The group said lockdown allowed abusers more access to groom, coerce or trick victims as they were online to learn from home or socialise.
Chief executive Susie Hargreaves said: ‘During the pandemic, the internet was a lifeline but we’re only now unpacking the full effects. What is clear is younger children are being pulled into abusive situations by rapacious predators, often while they are in their own bedrooms.
‘Parents are often unaware this online backdoor into their homes leaves their children vulnerable. I fear this could be the tip of the iceberg.’
Overall, IWF investigated 375,230 reports suspected to contain child sex abuse imagery, with 255,580 confirmed. Of these, 199,360 – 78 per cent – were made remotely. Some 14 per cent of pages made by seven-to ten-year-olds last year contained the most severe Category A material. It said footage could include pages hosted in other countries and abuse carried abroad.
Andy Lulham, of web safety firm VerifyMy, called the statistics ‘devastating’.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said they ‘will send a chill down every parent’s spine’.
Children’s campaigners said the findings showed an online safety bill going through parliament should be strengthened already. It will make Ofcom an online harms regulator.
A government spokesperson said as well as the ‘pioneering’ bill, it brought in mandatory teaching on sex, health, relationships and online safety.
‘Child sexual abuse is a horrific crime against the most vulnerable in our society.’
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