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5.6 Child Abuse and the Internet


For additional information, please see:


Sexting in schools and colleges: Responding to incidents and safeguarding young people

Police action in response to youth produced sexual imagery (Sexting)

Coram children's legal centre
(Law Stuff is run by Coram Children's Legal Centre and gives free legal information to young people on a range of different issues. See Children's rights in the digital world in particular).


In February 2022, this chapter was updated to add an explanatory note on ‘sexting’ – noting that many young people do not recognise this term (see Section 1, The Internet).


  1. The Internet
  2. Child Abuse and the Adult
  3. Strategy Meeting
  4. Section 47 Enquiry

1. The Internet

The internet and social media has become a significant tool in the distribution of illegal indecent and abusive images of children and other materials.

Via the use of social media, on-line games, chat rooms, bulletin boards, forums and 'The Dark Web', perpetrators are able to establish contact with children with a view to grooming them for inappropriate abusive relationships.

Children may be asked to transmit indecent images of themselves or perform sexual acts for a webcam. In some instances the contacts made initially via the internet may be maintained through other media such as mobile phones.

Where young people are voluntarily sending/sharing sexual images or content with one another the police may use the recently introduced 'outcome 21' recording code to record that a crime has been committed but that it is not considered to be in the public interest to take criminal action against the people involved. This reduces stigma and distress for children and help to minimise the long term impact of the situation.

(See Briefing note: Police action in response to youth produced sexual imagery ('Sexting') (College of Policing))

Sexting is a term which many young people do not recognise or use. (Some children and young people consider this to mean ‘writing and sharing explicit messages with people they know’ rather than sharing youth-produced sexual images). Nevertheless, it describes sharing nudes and semi-nudes is a term are terms used when a person under the age of 18 shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages. They can be sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones, laptops - any device that allows you to share media and messages images and messages to be shared.

Where children are exposed to adult pornography or obscene material over an appreciable period of time, further action should be considered.

2. Child Abuse and the Adult

When someone is discovered to have placed indecent images of children on the internet, or accessed child pornography, either via the internet or some other medium such as publications, videos, or has created indecent images of children in writing or in production of indecent images of children or young people, the police should consider whether that individual might be actively involved in abusing children.

As part of the Serious Crime Act (2015) an offence of sexual communication with a child was introduced. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under 16 years of age. The Act also amended the Sex Offences Act 2003 so it is now an offence for an adult to arrange to meet with someone under 16 having communicated with them on just one occasion (previously it was on at least two occasions).

3. Strategy Meeting

Where there is a concern that a child or young person up to and including the age of 18 years is using the internet as a means to meet people and or there is sufficient concern that a child or young person is being groomed via their use of the internet, a Strategy Meeting should be convened in accordance with the PAN Merseyside Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol.

If it is established that a person who is discovered to have accessed or created indecent images of children has substantial contact with children through family, employment, voluntary work or a position of trust, a Strategy Meeting should be convened immediately involving the police, Children's Social Care and any other relevant agencies to consider the immediate action required to investigate and protect children from Significant Harm. Discussion should also take place regarding reporting the ICT information to Internet Watch Foundation website.

If the person is a professional working with children, a Strategy Meeting should be convened and chaired by the Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit (see Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure). The Strategy Meeting needs to consider whether a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service is appropriate.

4. Section 47 Enquiry

Where there are concerns regarding a specific child, a Section 47 Enquiry should commence and the Core Assessment should be completed regardless of the outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry.

Where the concerns are about a specific family member or contact with children in the household a Child Protection Conference may need to be convened subject to the outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry.