Over 300 Million Children a Year Face Sexual Abuse Online: Study

LONDON – More than 300 million children worldwide are victims of online sexual exploitation and abuse annually, according to a groundbreaking global estimate published on May 27 by researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

The study, conducted by the university’s Childlight Global Child Safety Institute, reveals that one in eight children globally have experienced non-consensual taking, sharing, and exposure to sexual images and videos over the past year. This alarming statistic equates to approximately 302 million young individuals.

In addition to this, the report highlights a similar number of cases involving solicitation, such as unwanted sexting and requests for sexual acts from adults and peers. Offenses range from sextortion, where predators demand money to keep images private, to the misuse of AI technology for creating deepfake videos and pictures.

The study underscores the pervasive nature of this issue, identifying the United States as a particularly high-risk area, with one in nine men admitting to online offenses against children at some point.

“Child abuse material is so prevalent that files are on average reported to watchdog and policing organizations once every second,” said Paul Stanfield, chief executive of Childlight. “This is a global health pandemic that has remained hidden for far too long. It occurs in every country, it’s growing exponentially, and it requires a global response.”

The report follows recent warnings from UK police about criminal gangs in West Africa and Southeast Asia targeting British teenagers in sextortion scams. Non-governmental organizations and police have noted a surge in such cases, especially against teenage boys.

In response, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has issued alerts to hundreds of thousands of teachers, advising them to be vigilant of the threats their students might encounter. Scammers often pose as peers on social media before transitioning to encrypted messaging apps, where they persuade victims to share intimate images. These blackmail demands typically occur within an hour of initial contact and are primarily driven by financial extortion rather than sexual gratification, according to the NCA.

This study and the subsequent warnings highlight the urgent need for a coordinated global effort to combat the escalating threat of online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.