Thousand percent increase in sexual abuse imagery of primary school children globally

A sex therapist is urging parents to have uncomfortable conversations with their kids about online safety amid an alarming rise in sextortion of primary school-aged children.

Sextortion is a sinister crime where an offender possesses explicit photos of the victim and then uses them to blackmail the victim, for example asking them to send money or send more pictures.

On Wednesday, Paddy Gower Has Issues revealed reported sextortion cases have doubled to 58 reports per month this year in New Zealand. It is a trend that is being followed globally with sextortion sharply on the rise and, concerningly, primary school children are being targeted.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) found a 1058 percent increase in the number of global webpages showing sexual abuse images and videos of children aged 7-10 since 2019.

Of the imagery made of these young children, 14 percent (8930 URLs) contained the most severe kind of material which includes penetrative sexual activity, images involving sexual activity with an animal, or sadism, IWF said.

In 2022 alone, there were 63,050 reports related to child pornography imagery which commonly included children which had been groomed, coerced, or tricked into performing sexual acts on camera by an online predator.

Appearing on AM, sex therapist Jo Robertson said sextortion is a "really significant issue globally" and noted the numbers were likely to be higher due to under-reporting.

"We've got a 1000 percent increase but there's significant underreporting for fear of shame, and embarrassment, for fear of punishment from adults," Robertson told co-host Laura Tupou.

She said seven to 10-year-olds are more likely to be sending the explicit images to strangers online, while children over 11-years-old are also sending the photos to friends.

Sex therapist Jo Robertson.
Sex therapist Jo Robertson. Photo credit: AM

Robertson said the impacts of sextortion on victims are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We know that online harm impacts people in the same way, pretty much, as real-life harm is, so we can't minimise that… In fact, the images are there forever," she said.

For parents, Robertson advises them to stay engaged with their children and have a really explicit conversation about what to do if someone asks for a nude photo. She also advises parents to tell their children to go straight to them and keep the request as evidence.

"Usually, a perpetrator has over 250 victims… So, you want to keep evidence so that we can take that person down and they are not continuously creating harm," Robertson said.

Parents play a crucial role in helping to keep their children safe online because while there has been a significant increase the crime there is little to no funding for this, Robertson said.

"Ultimately, your child needs you. They need you; they need to feel like you care about them, that you’re on their team and you're not judging them," she said.

Victims of sextortion can visit Netsafe and Take It Down for help.