THE internet has made life a lot easier in many ways. We can keep in touch with friends and family, join meetings remotely, and access information at the touch of a button.
For children and young people the internet has been a lifeline in recent years, enabling them to stay in contact with friends and loved ones and continue schoolwork during the pandemic.
But it has also led to an increase in dangers. Recent figures showed the Internet Watch Foundation received more reports of ‘sextortion’ in the first six months of 2023 than in the whole of 2022, with boys in their late teens targeted most often.
The IWF is a child protection hotline that finds and removes imagery of child sexual abuse from the internet. In the first half of this year, it investigated 191 reports of suspected sextortion, compared with 30 in 2022. Its analysts confirmed 75 of those 191 reports as child sexual abuse material and took steps to have the images and videos blocked and removed from the internet. ‘Sextortion’ in this context describes cases of children and young people being tricked into sharing sexual images of themselves by abusers who then extort money or further imagery from them. In 2022/23, there were 844 mentions within Childline counselling sessions where a child discussed blackmail or threats to expose or share sexual images. An increase of 61per cent compared to the previous year.
One boy, aged 17, told Childline counsellors: “I am a victim of an extortionist and keep receiving messages threatening to share a nude video of me online unless I pay him money. I get so scared every time I get a notification, I worry this will be the day my nudes get posted.”
Young people tell us they feel afraid, ashamed and worried about what their family will think. Often they don’t know who to turn to. The emotional impact of sexual extortion can be devastating.
The NSPCC together with the IWF developed a tool called Report Remove to support young people who have had a nude image or video of themselves published online. Anyone under 18 can use this tool to report this and the IWF can then review the content and work to have it removed if it breaks the law.
Circumstances in which a young person may share a self-generated sexual image can vary. It may be peer pressure or to a boyfriend or girlfriend who they trust, or they may have been groomed online or blackmailed into sharing content.
Whatever the reason, Report Remove can help young people regain control. Childline counsellors are available around the clock to offer support and guidance.