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Global Threat Assessment 2023 reveals Alarming Escalation in Child Sexual Abuse Online

3 min read
Child sexual abuse

WeProtect Global Alliance has released its fourth Global Threat Assessment Report, revealing there has been an 87% increase in reported child sexual abuse material cases since 2019, with over 32 million reports globally (NCMEC).  

The findings underscore the pressing need for a coordinated, multi-faceted response to protect the world’s children from this escalating threat. 

The report, which provides critical insights into the threats children face online in 2023, also found there has been a 360% increase in self-generated sexual imagery of 7-10-year-olds from 2020 to 2022 (Internet Watch Foundation).  

Additionally, the report revealed that conversations with children on social gaming platforms can escalate into high-risk grooming situations within 19 seconds, with an average grooming time of just 45 minutes.  

Social gaming environments that facilitate adult-child intermingling, exchanging virtual gifts and public ranking systems, significantly increase these risks.  

The research found a significant rise in financial sexual extortion, with reports of the harm jumping from 139 in 2021 to over 10,000 reports in 2022.  

This involves perpetrators grooming and manipulating children into sharing sexual images and videos of themselves and then extorting them for monetary gain. Many extorters pose as young girls online and predominantly approach boys aged between 15-17 years via social media. This phenomenon has resulted in a string of cases where children have tragically taken their own lives. 

“Like our global partners, the volume of reported abusive content to eSafety continues to rise. In the 2022-23 financial year, child sexual exploitation reports more than doubled compared to 2021-22,” said Australia eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.  

New technology is heightening the threats that children face online. Since early 2023, cases of perpetrators also using generative Al to create child sexual abuse material and exploit children have been increasing.  

“The online abuse of children will only accelerate unless we learn from past mistakes and proactively ‘bake in’ protections by adopting a Safety by Design approach. Governments, regulators, the tech industry and civil society must continue to work together to adopt a child-centred, human rights approach to online safety,” added Grant.  

Thorn found that while less than 1% of child sexual abuse material files shared in a sample of offender communities are currently photorealistic computer-generated imagery (CGI) of child sexual abuse, the volume has increased consistently since August 2022.  

Last month, Australia, in a global first, put in place measures that require big tech companies to take steps to ensure AI products cannot be used to generate deepfake images and videos of child sexual abuse.  

According to WeProtect Global Alliance Executive Director Iain Drennan to prevent more children from coming to harm, governments, online service providers, charities and companies must step up their efforts and work together to drive change and protect children. 

“Our latest report shows the scale of the threat children face online. Online-facilitated child sexual exploitation and abuse worldwide demands our attention and action right now.” 

Turning the tide on current abuse trends will only be possible with increased prioritisation and commitment from all stakeholders involved in the response, empowered and enabled by maturing legislation.  

“New technological capabilities further exacerbate existing risks, and the situation is no different in Australia. Children’s safety must be non-negotiable,” added Drennan. 

To fight back, all stakeholders, including governments, online service providers, civil society organisations, and responders, are urged to: 

  • Invest in Public Health Approaches: Prioritise prevention and invest in interventions targeting those who have or are at risk of perpetrating or experiencing abuse. If we only invest in responding to the problem after the abuse has happened, we are failing children. 
  • Centre Children’s Rights and Perspectives: Design interventions that empower children, remove barriers to abuse identification and enable them to hold online service providers accountable. 
  • Implement Globally Aligned Legislation: Prevent offenders from exploiting legal loopholes by enacting globally consistent internet regulations. 
  • Adopt a Safety by Design Approach: Implement innovative approaches to technology design that prioritise user safety from the outset, not as an afterthought. 

“It’s our collective responsibility to support children to reap all the incredible benefits of technology while protecting them from harm,” added Grant.  

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.


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