Young girls are in greater jeopardy of being the victims of sexual predators online than ever according to the latest report by an internet watchdog organization.
In its annual report for 2020 released on Wednesday, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) announced an alarming trend of increased sexual grooming among children using the internet, especially young girls.
The IWF noted a stunning 68,000 cases of “self-generated imagery” being shared online globally, referring to photos, videos, and other media produced by the victims themselves under the direction and coercion of a predator. That statistic represents a 77% increase over 2019’s total.
80% of the 2020 total were girls aged 11 to 13 following an increase in cases among girls up from 78% in 2018 to 93% in 2020.
As for hubs of child sexual abuse imagery on the web, the IWF confirmed a total of 153,369 URLs containing such materials, 44% of which was “self-generated” by underage victims.
To make matters worse, the organization said that children homebound due to pandemic restrictions and school closures have made a “captive audience” for predators.
“The scale of the problem is appalling,” said IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves in a statement announcing the report. “And our fear is without intervention it will get worse.”
“We don’t want to frighten people,” Hargreaves continued, “but we do want to build resilience to the threat of self-generated sexual abuse of children.”
“We want to help teenage girls to recognize the actions that constitute self-generated sexual abuse as abuse,” she went on. “We want them to feel empowered to take control, and to understand how to deal with inappropriate requests and report them to a trusted source.”
IWF’s findings align with those of federal agencies addressing the urgent matter of child exploitation online.
Late last year, the Department of Justice warned families that online predators had “increased access to children” and that it was “essential” for parents, guardians, and teachers to be aware of risks and warning signs.
“We must all educate ourselves and talk to our children about the risks inherent in the open access the internet provides,” said Lisa Fletcher, assistant US attorney of the Northern District of New York.“Showing that you care will go a long way with a child and that in turn will go a long way in keeping them safe.”
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