Last reviewed May 2024

One Minute Guide to Child Online Exploitation

What is Child Online Exploitation?

Child Online Exploitation happens within an individual or group using online platforms take advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child under the age of 18 into sexual and/or criminal activity that can occur both online and offline.

The act of developing a relationship with a child to enable their abuse and exploitation through online platforms, such as online gaming, social media, messaging and live streaming indicates online exploitation. Perpetrators can use online platforms as a way to criminally exploit children by coercing them into criminal activity and then monitoring and controlling their movements.

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Organised Crime Groups
  • Text link image and remote mothering 
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    Organised crime groups can track the location of a child through apps to coerce their behaviour and blackmail them into criminal activity. This is sometimes known as remote mothering. 

    Children can also be a victim of money laundering where an online bank or game account can be used to hold or ‘clean’ money from criminal activity. This is sometimes known as ‘squaring’.

Children that are most at risk of 'offline' exploitation are also the most at risk of 'online' exploitation  

Ways in which a child can be exploited online
  • Text link image Identity theft
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    to create fake profiles, make fraudulent transactions, or commit other crimes (sometimes without their knowledge of the crime)

  • Text link image Cyber bullying and harassment
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    to intimidate or humiliate using digital platforms, which can sometimes escalate to threats and explicit content sharing

  • Text link image Sexting
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    communication between individuals that involves sexual content. This can be through text messages, images or videos. Visit Childline for more information here

  • Text link image Sextortion
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    Visit Metropolitan Police website for more information here

    Sextortion is a form of blackmail. It involves threatening to publish sexual information, photos or videos about someone. This may be to extort money or to force the victim to do something against their will.

  • Text link image Online grooming
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    perpetrators may establish relationships with children online with the intent of exploiting them sexually and/or criminally. Perpetrators often manipulate and deceive children to gain their trust before engaging in exploitative activity.

  • Text link image Child sexual abuse material (CSAM)
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    the creation, distribution, or possession of explicit images or videos involving children. As well as the creation of Deep Fake images/videos of CSAM material. Read more here

  • Text link image Sex trafficking
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    forcing or coercing children into sexual activities through online platforms, often involving human trafficking.

  • Text link image Online scams
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    phishing, fraudulent websites, or deceptive online schemes. Scammers may exploit a child’s lack of  experience to trick them into sharing personal or financial information.

  • Text link image Online challenges
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    viral stories, hoaxes, or digital ghost stories can appear online through social media or other online platforms. The ‘challenges’ themselves can vary but often encourage individuals to harm themselves, others, or property in the real world.

  • Text link image Privacy violations
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    children may unknowingly share sensitive information online, such as their location, school details, or personal habits which may put them at serious risk.

  • Text link image Invasion of privacy through Apps and devices
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    the collection of excessive personal data can sometimes be misused or exposed in security breaches.

  • Text link image Unwanted Contact / Cyberflashing using Airdrop
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    children may receive unsolicited messages, friend requests, or communications from strangers online, which could potentially lead to dangerous situations.

Indicators that a child may be being  exploited online:

Changes in young people’s behaviour could indicate exploitation. Look for things that don’t seem right and listen to yourself. If things don’t feel right they’re probably not.

  • Talking about older or new friends they’ve met online
  • Talking about gifts or money they’ve received online
  • Becoming withdrawn and secretive
  • Having a new phone or more than one phone
  • Receiving large number of calls or messages
  • Worried about being away from their phone
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<strong>Prevention & Risks</strong>

Prevention & Risks

Taking a holistic approach.

Understanding a child’s life involves taking a holistic approach and having an awareness of their online presence is as important as any other information we may gather about a child. Taking a contextual safeguarding approach to better understand the risks, the preventative measures we can take, how to spot the signs of abuse and what we can do about it, will keep a child from harm.

Being proactive and regularly monitoring their digital world can keep a child safe online. Take a look at some of the strategies on our online webpage to get you started.

To read more about AI, the Metaverse and VR visit the WSCP online exploitation webpage.

What is the impact of Online Child Sexual Abuse?

This type of abuse can lead to the same psychological harm as physical abuse and can include the following effects:

  • self-blame
  • flashbacks or intrusive thoughts
  • difficulties sleeping
  • nightmares
  • extreme tiredness
  • difficulties concentrating
  • difficulties keeping up with school work
  • behavioural problems at school
  • depression
  • low self-esteem
  • social withdrawal
  • panic attacks and anxiety
  • eating disorder or eating difficulties
  • self-harm
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Read more from the Home Office on the Interim Code of Practice on Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse which provides detailed guidance for companies on actions they can take to tackle online child sexual abuse that occurs on their services or platforms.

<strong>Responding to online abuse</strong>

Responding to online abuse

Children have grown up in an interconnected world. Online and offline experiences are equally real and valid.

Talk to children about being safe online. Let them know they can talk to you about anything they’re worried about or experiencing.

Any child can experience online abuse. If a child has disclosed that they’ve experienced abuse online, or you’ve noticed something worrying, you must respond appropriately. If a child is in immediate danger you must call the police on 999.

Tools & Further information

Download this one minute guide to Child Online Exploitation Click here to Download

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