The dangers of self-generated images- The Internet Watch Foundation
In this guest blog, our online safety partner, the Internet Watch Foundation, a not for profit organisation that helps victims of child sexual abuse by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse, explains the risks associated with self-generated images.
Young people are frequently sharing photos and videos as part of their everyday life, and while most of this sharing is harmless, it is important for both children and their parents, carers and teachers, to know the dangers of self-generated images.
What are self-generated images?
When we refer to self-generated images, we mean nude or partially nude images of children, which have been taken by children of themselves. The circumstances which lead children to appear in these images are diverse – ranging from the production in the context of a consensual relationship with a member of their peer group to situations of grooming, coercion and extortion. Whatever the reason behind the production of these images is, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) works to ensure this content is removed from the internet to protect these children from further revictimisation.
Peer to peer
The ease and speed with which images can be taken and shared with smartphones, social media and webcams are a concern when it comes to young people “sexting”. So what are the dangers when it comes to sharing an image with someone else? For the most part, the image will stay with the person it was intended for, however sometimes images can be shared further, between other peers at school or onto the internet, for instance through social media. According to a new survey by children’s online safety charity Childnet, over half of UK teens have witnessed their peers circulating nude or nearly nude images of someone they know. A young person can quickly lose control of the image of themselves, or even if it hasn’t been shared further, the fear that is has can have a psychological impact on the young person. Risks include embarrassment, distress, bullying, and an increased vulnerability to sexual exploitation. Producing and sharing sexual images of under 18s is illegal, even if the person is under 18 and taking a picture of themselves.
Although the production of such imagery will likely take place outside of school and college, these issues often manifest in schools, colleges and organisations working with children and young people, according to the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS). Schools, colleges and other organisations need to be able to respond swiftly and confidently to ensure that children are safeguarded, supported and educated.
Strangers on the internet
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has done lots of research into self-generated, sexually explicit content of young people on the internet. This research revealed that most of the content catalogued by the analysts – in fact a whopping 88% – had been taken from its original upload source and put somewhere else. Often these images and videos would be in collections.
In recent years, we’ve seen younger and younger children appearing in self-generated sexual imagery, often as a result of being coerced online by offenders. This month, the National Crime Agency revealed they had overseen the arrest of nearly 200 paedophiles, thought to be grooming around 250 victims, in a one-week blitz.
Around a third of the cases involved children being coerced to send indecent images of themselves over the internet, or live stream their abuse.
We’ve also seen a rise in people selling these sorts of images. Once posted online, these images are often collected and repeatedly shared by offenders, making permanently removing these images extremely challenging. It’s vital to take action to better protect children and young people from such exploitation.
The message to our young people is that if they take part in creating this sort of imagery they are likely to lose control of it once it is uploaded on the internet.
What can be done to help?
According to Sexting in schools and colleges: responding to incidents and safeguarding young people, by UKCCIS, how schools and parents behave in response to any incident is extremely important, and any disclosure should be taken very seriously. Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance says that schools ‘should ensure children are taught about safeguarding, including online, through teaching and learning opportunities’. Children’s internet safety charity Childnet says children should be encouraged to talk to a trusted adult.
Adults should ask a number of questions, such as: Why was the imagery shared? Where was it shared? Was it consensual or was the young person put under pressure or coerced? Was an adult involved? What has the impact been?
UKCCIS say a referral should be made to the police if a young person has been blackmailed or coerced into sharing an image or groomed, if imagery is being shared without consent and with malicious intent, if the imagery is unusual or violent, if it involves sexual acts, if any pupil in the imagery is under 13, or if an adult is involved.
While this blog explains the risks associated with self-generated images, the UK Government has provided a lengthy guide on sexting in schools.
The IWF is working with law enforcement agencies, governments, charities and the internet industry to make sure child sexual abuse images are removed from the internet. Our analysts see first-hand how self-generated images can be spread across the internet by offenders.
If you stumble across any sexual images of children on the internet, you can do the right thing by reporting it to the IWF at www.iwf.org.uk/report
For more resources, go to www.iwf.org.uk/resources