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Nearly 20% of UK Children Exposed to Self-Harm Images Online

Primary school-aged children have seen content online which encouraged them to hurt themselves, according to the NSPCC

In its latest report, How safe are our children? 2019: an overview of data on child abuse online, the children's charity interviewed children across the UK as part of its sixth annual report on the subject of staying safe online. The research found that 16% of primary school children and 19% of secondary school-aged students had seen content which encouraged self-harm. 

Secondary school students also reported that they see sexual content (16%) in reviews of the “most popular social networks, apps and games,” as well as seeing (31%) worrying or nasty online content. 

“Right now, internet companies are a black box that nobody on the outside world is allowed to open,” writes Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC. “Many don’t publish any details about the scale and scope of the dangers children have been facing on their platforms. 

“Despite calls for openness, they stay silent.”

The report shows that there has been a year-on-year increase in the numbers and rates of police-recorded online child sexual offences in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with increases in police-recorded offences of obscene publications or indecent photos in all four UK nations over the last five years. Further, there have been increases in the number of URLs containing child sexual abuse imagery since 2015. 

This year, Libby, 16, spoke to the BBC about how she used social media channels to promote her self-harming. Her father, Ian, told the BBC that images were reported to Instagram, but the social media company did nothing. The NSPCC report found that the majority of parents, carers and members of the public believe that social networks should have a legal responsibility to keep children safe on their platforms.

Wanless agrees: “We are seeking a convincing demonstration of a duty of care to young users, so the internet can genuinely be a place that benefits us all. Nothing will concentrate minds better than effective sanctions for the tech giants who fail to take reasonable steps to protect our children. 

“These companies make vast sums of money every year and the penalties need to be proportionate. Named directors need to be liable for their actions and inactions,” he continues. "In other industries like financial services this is now accepted practice in terms of expecting and enforcing responsible corporate behaviour."

NSPCC's research also found that young children were being exposed to sexual images online, sometimes being preyed upon by adults: 21% of surveyed girls aged 11 to 18 said they had received a request for a sexual image or message, with 5% saying they had been sent or shown a naked or semi-naked picture or video from an adult. Also, 4% of primary school children had been sent or shown such an image. Most shockingly, 2% of surveyed primary and secondary school children said they had sent a naked or semi-naked picture or video to an adult.

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