Internet Watch Foundation. Trends in online child sexual exploitation. 2018. (accessed 16 March 2022)

Internet Watch Foundation. IWF annual report 2020: face the facts. 2021. (accessed 16 March 2022)

Ofcom. Children and parents: media use and attitudes report: 2020/21. 2021. (accessed 16 March 2022)

COVID-19 lockdowns and the rise in child exploitation

24 March 2022
Volume 31 · Issue 6

The hidden costs of COVID-19 lockdowns for children will be discussed for decades. It will not need an expert panel to realise that, for many, the isolation in itself was an adverse childhood experience. We think of their lost education, and the immeasurable protective factors that physically attending school offers. For some children, school is their ‘safe space’, providing room to thrive and be free from the troubles at home. Abruptly closing this door forced our children into isolation. This was unlike school holidays, where measures to safeguard the vulnerable are in place. This was a wholesale step back. I have a strong idea of some of the horrors they will have endured but we will have to wait for the inquiries and reports to have it laid out in full.

Education had to turn to IT to maintain contact and deliver learning to all age groups, so it is unsurprising that Ofcom reports (2021) that nearly all children aged 5 to 15 went online in 2020, with just over half posting or sharing their own content. When used well, the world wide web can be a safe place for teaching and for children to maintain some socialisation by keeping in touch with their peers. On the flip side, it can be an obscure, shadowy portal where all types of predators loom, to groom and exploit children.

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