The report found that the number of indecent images of children in circulation worldwide is in the many millions, with some images reaching unprecedented levels of depravity.
it is possible to access such imagery from common search engines in only ‘three clicks’, while live-streamed abuse can be accessed for little more than £1, offering encouragement to would-be offenders to engage in child sexual abuse on a significant scale.
During 14 days of public hearings in January 2018 and May 2019, the IICSA heard distressing accounts from those directly affected by child sexual abuse facilitated online and described the harm done to children and their families as ‘incalculable’.
In addition to law enforcement and government, the inquiry also heard evidence from internet companies including Facebook, Google and Microsoft. And found that industry responses appeared reactive rather than proactive; action seemed driven by a desire to avoid reputational damage rather than to prioritise the protection of children.
The report concluded that internet companies failed to demonstrate that they were fully aware of the scale of underage social media use. It describes how online age verification processes can easily be subverted by children under 13; an age group at significant risk of being groomed.
It also said that the lack of a comprehensive plan from industry and government to combat this problem should be urgently addressed.
Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the Inquiry, said: ‘The serious threat of child sexual abuse facilitated by the internet is an urgent problem which cannot be overstated.
‘Despite industry advances in technology to detect and combat online facilitated abuse, the risk of immeasurable harm to children and their families shows no sign of diminishing.
‘The Panel and I hope this report and its recommendations lead internet companies, law enforcement and government to implement vital measures to prioritise the protection of children and prevent abuse facilitated online.’
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said two-thirds of the children supported through the charity’s sexual exploitation services were groomed online:
‘The report provides further evidence that children across the UK are at risk of online grooming and sexual abuse.
‘We continue to urge the government to act swiftly to regulate the internet and enforce serious sanctions for companies that break the rules and leave children in danger.
‘Every day the internet remains unregulated is another day children are at risk. Two-thirds of the children supported through our sexual exploitation services were groomed online before meeting their abuser in person.
‘Just like you wouldn’t give a stranger a key to your house, we cannot keep allowing predators and abusers to have unrestricted access to children through the internet.’
Photo Credit – Pixaby