One in three explicit images of children are selfies and predominately young girls
About a third of explicit images of children found online by an internet watchdog are selfies, new figures show.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) took action over 124,605 images of child abuse found online between January and November 2019, of which 37,112, or 30%, were self-generated.
More than three quarters of these images, 29,100 or 78%, featured children aged 11 to 13, most of whom were girls.
The IWF and charity Marie Collins Foundation (MCF), that supports survivors of abuse, are calling on young men who find images or videos on porn sites that they believe may be of underage victims, to anonymously report what they have found.
One victim, who wishes to be identified only as Rhiannon, was sexually assaulted at the age of 13 in her own home, a day after being groomed by a fake modelling scout online.
Police contacted her months later after discovering images of the assault on her attacker’s computer.
She said: “In my situation, if the images that I’d sent to the perpetrator that evening had been reported and I was identified, I could have been safeguarded before the man came to my house, and that would have prevented me from being sexually assaulted.
“It’s easy to think that an image is something that has already happened, but you don’t know the circumstances.
“For some people it could be ongoing. A report could lead to them being taken out of that situation.”
Under UK law, anyone can be prosecuted for taking, sharing or possessing explicit images of under-18s.
Chief executive of the IWF, Susie Hargreaves, said the number of children being tricked or blackmailed into generating indecent images online is “fast becoming a national crisis”.
She said: “Today’s data demonstrates the alarming rate at which self-generated imagery is increasing, especially among young girls – often in domestic settings.
“These are images and videos where girls have been groomed, coerced and tricked into performing sexually over webcam, what is fast becoming a national crisis.
“There has never been a more poignant time to shine a light on the uncomfortable truth we are now faced with.
“While we’re working to prevent images from being taken in the first place, efforts to halt the spread of the ones in circulation, by encouraging young men to anonymously report any they may unintentionally stumble upon, is an important and much-needed step to help tackle the issue.
“Young men might be at risk of stumbling across this content as a result of having unprecedented access to sexual content online – but they can also be the heroes that help us save many more victims of child sexual abuse.”
The IWF works to get images of child abuse removed from the internet and is in contact with law enforcement agencies across the world.
Chief executive of the Marie Collins Foundation, Tink Palmer, said: “Online sexual abuse is not a victimless crime.
“The children in these images and videos are real and they are harmed every time the content is viewed and shared.
“All internet users need to understand that they are breaking the law if they view this material, regardless of who has taken or uploaded it.
“Everyone can play their part in ridding the internet of this scourge by reporting illegal images and, ultimately, in protecting children.”
Victim: ‘These pictures of me being out there, it was like a never-ending crime’
A woman who was sexually assaulted aged 13 after being groomed by a fake modelling scout said it was “like a never-ending crime” knowing that images of the attack could be online.
She was attacked in her own home just a day after chatting to someone posing as a woman who persuaded her to share explicit images and then blackmailed her.
The victim, who wishes to be named only as Rhiannon, said: “When I was 13 years old I was speaking to somebody online that my friend introduced me to.
“The person was putting themselves forward as a young woman who was a model and we had a conversation.
“She seemed to be quite nice, there were lots of questions about who I am, what kind of things I do.
“I thought that was just quite a normal thing, that we were making friends, getting to know each other.
“The conversation went on for a few hours and the more we spoke the more information she wanted about my life.
“She was very complimentary and she asked me for a photo, just of my face initially.
“It was a thing in those days, you would ask age, sex, location and send a picture to prove who you were.
“She complimented me and said how pretty I was and that I was really good looking and I could be a model like she was.
I didn’t have a lot of confidence when I was 13, I think teenage girls don’t generally have a lot of body confidence, and I was taken in by all the compliments that she gave me.
“Then she said to me at one point that she did some topless modelling and she thought I could do some as well.
“So she asked for some topless photos, which I wasn’t so sure about but then she’d been so nice to me I didn’t really think about it in terms of it being too big a deal, and I didn’t really know this person and it was online.
“So I sent a picture, it was topless, and almost immediately the way she spoke to me changed.”
Once the “model” had the photos, they began to blackmail Rhiannon into sending more images, and threatening her if she did not comply.
“The compliments stopped and it was ‘I’ve got these now, so you’ve got to do what I ask you to do.” There were some more images sent because I didn’t feel like I had a choice.”
The person then said they wanted their boss to go to Rhiannon’s house to take some photos.
“I really panicked at that point. I thought that things online were getting a bit close to real life.
“I said I didn’t want to give my address. She said she could find it anyway.
“She said it could be found through my IP address.
“I knew that identified my computer but I didn’t know that they didn’t have access to that.
“I thought she was going to be able to find me.
“Even without the address she knew so much about me already, she said that she was going to go to my school and wait outside and hand out the pictures that I had already sent, and would go to my local area and plaster them up and down so my parents would see them.
“I felt like I didn’t have a choice. So I gave her my address.”
The following morning a man arrived at her house – in reality the same person with whom Rhiannon had been speaking online.
“He came to my house that morning and sexually assaulted me in my bedroom and took more photos of what he was doing.
“I thought that if I told anybody about it he was going to show them the photos.
“I was really ashamed because I thought that I was the one in the wrong and that people would think badly of me rather than thinking badly of him.
“So I didn’t tell anybody about it. I didn’t want to tell anybody about it at all.”
Six months later the police contacted Rhiannon.
A second victim had reported the attacker and during the investigation images of Rhiannon had been found.
He pleaded guilty on the day he was due to stand trial and was sentenced to 13 years in prison, seven of which were for what he did to Rhiannon.
She said: “Even after the court case when I tried to move on with my life it was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t know what happened with the images of me.
“I was fearful that somebody was looking at them. Or somebody might have seen them or that somebody might recognise me from them.
“These pictures of me being out there, it was like a never-ending crime. Even now I don’t know. They might be online, they might not.”
The predator was able to build up a detailed picture of her life quickly, including who she lived with and when she might be home alone.
Rhiannon said: “Since I was 13 there have been huge changes. I had a desktop computer in my bedroom, young people now have a smart phone in their pocket.
“The perpetrators of these crimes have got access to young people all the time. There is a lot more opportunity now.”
In the wake of the attack she suffered depression and anxiety and was at times unable to leave the house, being forced to drop out of education for a number of years.
She self-harmed and attempted suicide, and it was only nine years later at the age of 22 that she sought counselling and began to recover.
She said she may have never told anyone what had happened if the police had not found her images.
“At the time I didn’t want to tell anybody, I was so ashamed and embarrassed.
“I didn’t want anyone to see these pictures. I didn’t want my parents to know about what I had done.
“I don’t know if I ever would have told anybody. The fact that my images were found by the police was incredibly important.
“I don’t know if I would have ever come to terms with what happened if I never spoken up about it.”
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Chris Radburn / PA Wire.