Online Exploitation

What is Child Online Exploitation?

The ways in which a child can be exploited online are vast, and the means and extent to which this is happening is rapidly increasing.

There are, however many ways to protect children from these risks, but it is essential for everyone who lives with, supports or works with children to actively engage in their online activities, set appropriate boundaries, educate them about online safety, and encourage open communication.

Using parental controls, privacy settings, and monitoring tools can help create a safer online environment for children; exploring the risks, preventions and ways to address issues as soon as they arise will keep a child safe from further harm.

Any child, of any age is at risk of online exploitation.

The below video helpfully frames how the use of technology should be viewed and the risks faced by children:

Ways in which a child can be exploited online

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

The ways in which a child can be harmed and exploited online can include:

  • Identity theft: to create fake profiles, make fraudulent transactions, or commit other crimes (sometimes without their knowledge of the crime)
  • Cyber bullying and harassment: to intimidate or humiliate using digital platforms, which can sometimes escalate to threats and explicit content sharing
  • Sexting: communication between individuals that involves sexual content. This can be through text messages, images or videos. Visit Childline for more information here
  • Sextortion: 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. Visit Metropolitan Police website for more information here
  • Online grooming: 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.
  • Child sexual abuse material (CSAM): 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. Deepfake images to be made a criminal offense. Read more here
  • Sex trafficking: forcing or coercing children into sexual activities through online platforms, often involving human trafficking.
  • Online scams: 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.
  • Online challenges: 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.
  • Privacy violations: children may unknowingly share sensitive information online, such as their location, school details, or personal habits which may put them at serious risk.
  • Invasion of privacy through Apps and devices: the collection of excessive personal data can sometimes be misused or exposed in security breaches.
  • Unwanted Contact / Cyberflashing using Airdrop: children may receive unsolicited messages, friend requests, or communications from strangers online, which could potentially lead to dangerous situations. Read more here

NB: As addressed in the Online Safety Bill, cyberflashing will become a criminal offence with perpetrators facing imprisonment for up to two years. Click more on the soundbite under 'Resources' for more information on the Online Safety Bill.

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Can you see me?

April 2023

This video, produced by A21 an organisation working to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking, demonstrates how a child can be groomed online.

Warning! Please be aware that some of this content may be upsetting

What is the impact of online child sexual abuse

This type of abuse can lead to the same psychological harm as physical abuse

Effects can include:

  • 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

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.

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Reducing Online Harm

Through Media Literacy

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 below to get you started.

Practitioners can use some common strategies when navigating the digital world:
  • Education and Communication
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    Teach children about online safety from a young age. Discuss the potential risks they might encounter, what to put in place to mitigate these and encourage open communication.
  • Monitoring & Filtering
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    Utilise parental control software and tools to filter inappropriate content, monitor online activities, and limit screen time.
  • Safe Browsing Practices
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    Teach children to practice safe browsing habits, such as avoiding clicking on suspicious links or pop-up ads, not sharing personal information online, and being cautious when interacting with strangers.
  • Privacy Settings
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    Help children configure privacy settings on social media platforms, gaming networks, and other online accounts to control who can see their information and interact with them online.
  • Encourage Critical Thinking
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    Children need to know how to evaluate the credibility of online information and recognise potential dangers. Help them understand the importance of questioning sources (AI), fact-checking information, and being sceptical of online strangers.
  • Promote Positive Online Behaviour
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    Encourage children to be respectful and responsible digital citizens.
  • Stay Informed and Updated
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    Keep yourself informed about the latest online threats and trends affecting children. Stay updated on privacy laws, cybersecurity best practices, and resources available for online safety, education and support.
  • Build Trust and Support
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    Foster a supportive and trusting relationship with children so they feel comfortable coming to you with concerns or problems they encounter online. Provide guidance and support in navigating challenging situations and seeking help when needed.

Metaverse, VR and AI

understanding the jargon

Metaverse refers to a shared virtual space for users across the internet to access content, games, purchase or build items and environments. It is essentially an immersive version of the internet. The metaverse is built on a combination of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies – known collectively as extended reality (XR).

Virtual Reality (VR) is a digitally created experience that completely immerses the user into a simulated world. Typically, users wear a type of headset with a screen and headphones built in. They then play a game or explore a world with the use of hand controls and eye or body movements.

Artificial Intelligence or AI is fast becoming a normalised tool where users can create content, images and/or gather information.

We don't fully understand the risks and the implications for children, but some may include privacy risks, ethical bias, hacking and lack of human empathy as well as the most obvious risk to children which is the potential lack of age appropriate interaction.

To understand more about AI and how to use it more effectively, watch the two short videos below and visit Internet Matters here

Read more about the benefits and risks of immersive learning, the metaverse and how you can help children navigate this technology here

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Next steps to consider
  • What to do if you suspect Online Exploitation?
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    • CONTACT: West Yorkshire Police
    • CONTACT: Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO)
    • CONTACT: Integrated Front Door (IFD)
    • Refer: Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
    • Use: Screening Tool
    • use: Other reporting tools:
    Consider the following:
      West Yorkshire Police

      If a child is in immediate danger, call 999.

      For guidance and support on what to do if you suspect CSE you can call 101.

      If you have information that you want to share with the police you can do so by submitting it via the Partnership Intelligence Portal (PIP)
      Children Vulnerable to Exploitation (CVE) Screening Tool

      Coming soon
      Integrated Front Door (IFD)

      Visit the WSCP website
      worried about a child page for all information relating to the IFD and MASH team
    • Refer
      Internet Watch Foundation: Report harmful content (see below)

    • Use
      LADO: Allegations against a professional

      Refer to the WSCP
      LADO one minute guide for more information

    • use
      Other reporting tools:

      Call Ivison (formally PACE) on 0113 240 3040
      Text the British Transport Police on 61016
      Call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
      Call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000

Report Harmful Content!

What is harmful content and where can I report it?

The Internet Watch Foundation have built a reporting tool which can be used to remove harmful content. Visit the website to make a report and find more out more information Report Harmful Content - We Help You Remove Content


  • NWG Resource - Daniel's story
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    10-year-old Daniel was excited for Christmas and looking forward to getting his first laptop. Very soon, Daniel became the victim of child sexual abuse. He was coerced, manipulated and abused online.

    Read Daniel’s Story

  • Internet Watch Foundation podcast
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    This IWF episode explores what needs to be done to try and control the explosion in harmful AI-generated child abuse imagery and how other AI or machine-learning tools could be used to counter the phenomenon.

    Listen to: AI’s power to harm and to help December 2023

Safeguarding Soundbites: On Online Safety Bill Special 2023

Explore these websites and keep up to date with all the latest in technology

  • Appropriate Language in Relation to Child Exploitation
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    This document seeks to provide guidance to professionals on the appropriate use of language when discussing children and their experience of exploitation in a range of contexts.

    To access the guidance, please click here.

One Minute Guide
Developing skills and knowlegde around Child Online Exploitation
  • Text link image Learning & Development
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    Access the range of Child Exploitation training, development and resources from WSCP, as well as signposting to local and national services on our Child Exploitation learning & development page.

    There you will find links to current training offers, one minute guides, briefings, learning from reviews and signposting to local and national services that can help you with developing your skills and knowledge around Child Exploitation.

  • How Professional Curiosity & Challenge can help you
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    Being professionally curious and challenging is essential when it comes to identifying types of child exploitation, as some may occur in isolation whilst others alongside each other. It can be difficult to distinguish what type of exploitation a child is experiencing but having a contextual safeguarding approach to your assessment will help you to identify, prevent, disrupt and stop exploitation. Risks posed to a child may vary but can be as serious as death, we must therefore ensure the correct safeguarding response is considered when a child is being abused.

    To understand what is meant by professional curiosity and challenge in the district and how to adopt this approach, please click below.

    Learn more about professional curiosity and challenge on the WSCP webpages here

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