What is Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation?

A Child is anyone under the age of 18.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activity, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. This may include activities such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of CSA. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the activity appears consensual.

Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (CSAE) is used throughout this information resource to capture all types of offence. Online CSAE Offending can take a number of different forms which include:

Online Grooming - The act of developing a relationship with a child to enable their abuse and exploitation both online and offline. Online platforms, such as social media, messaging and live streaming, can be used to facilitate this offending.

Live Streaming – Live streaming services can be used by Child Sex Offenders (CSOs) to incite victims to commit or watch sexual acts via webcam. CSOs also stream or watch live contact sexual abuse or indecent images of children with other offenders. In some instances CSOs will pay facilitators to stream live contact abuse, with the offender directing what sexual acts are perpetrated against the victim.

Online coercion and blackmail – The coercion or blackmail of a child by technological means, using sexual images and/or videos depicting that child, for the purposes of sexual gain (e.g. to obtain new IIOC or bring about a sexual encounter), financial gain or other personal gain.

Possession, production and sharing of IIOC and Prohibited Images– CSOs can use online platforms to store and share IIOC and prohibited images. Online platforms can also be used to facilitate the production of IIOC, for example screen-recording of CSEA perpetrated over live streaming.

Indecent Images of Children (IIOC) are images of, or depicting, a child or part of a child which are judged to be in breach of recognised standards of propriety. Examples of images considered to be indecent are those depicting a child engaging in sexual activity or in a sexual manner, through posing, actions, clothing etc. IIOC includes photographs, videos, pseudo-photographs and tracings.

Prohibited Images of Children are non-photographic images, for example CGI, cartoons etc, which portray a child engaging in sexual activity, a sexual act being performed in the presence of a child or focus on the child’s genital or anal region.   

For a comprehensive summary and list of relevant legislation for online CSEA please consult Annex 1 of the UKCCIS guidance for providers of social media and interactive services.

For full versions of relevant legislation please visit www.legislation.gov.uk.

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