PG24. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based Forms of Abuse

For a record of all amendments and updates, see the Amendments & Archives.

Specific definitions of key concepts used by safeguarding practitioners are available through the Glossary.


This chapter was updated in September 2021 when a link to the NSPCC Report Remove Tool was added.

1. Introduction

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Information and communication technology (ICT)-based forms of child physical, sexual and emotional abuse can include bullying via mobile telephones or online (internet) with verbal and visual messages. See also cyberbullying in the Bullying Procedure.


This section focuses on child sexual abuse. However, the procedure should be followed in other instances of ICT-based abuse e.g. physical abuse (such as, children being constrained to fight each other or filmed being assaulted).

2. Recognition and Response

Caption: Recognition and Response


The impact on a child of ICT-based sexual abuse is similar to that for all sexually abused children (see Recognising Abuse and Neglect Procedure). However, it has an additional dimension of there being a visual record of the abuse.

ICT-based sexual abuse of a child constitutes significant harm through sexual and emotional abuse. See Recognising Abuse and Neglect Procedure.

Significant harm is defined in Responding to Concerns of Abuse and Neglect Procedure, Concept of significant harm as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect) which is so harmful that there needs to be compulsory intervention by child protection agencies into the life of the child and their family.


Professionals in all agencies working with children, adults and families should be alert to the possibility that:

  • A child may already have been / is being, abused and the images distributed on the internet or by mobile telephone;
  • An adult or older child may be grooming a child for sexual abuse, including for involvement in making abusive images. This process can involve the child being shown abusive images;
  • An adult or older child may be viewing and downloading child sexual abuse images.

3. Concern about Particular Child/ren

Caption: Concern about Particular Child/ren


Where the concerns involve a particular child/ren, professionals considering / making a referral to local authority children's social care should do so in line with Referral and Assessment Procedure. See also Referral and Assessment Procedure, Referral criteria.


Professionals should be aware that, for the reasons outlined in Impact on Children, the child may not want to acknowledge their involvement or admit its abusive nature, and may resist efforts to offer protection. This should not be a deterrent and agencies will need to work together closely in order to continue to monitor and assess the nature and degree of any risk to the child.


The police should ensure that checks are made with regard to the subject adult and any other suspected adults, their contact with other children and other activities involving children. This is in order to identify the existence of organised and complex abuse or abuse of children through sexual exploitation. See Sexual Exploitation Procedure and Organised and Complex Abuse Procedure.


The police can draw upon powers to seize communications materials only in specified circumstances where the level of evidence would support an application to do so. The police Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT) will receive support from the National Crime Agency which includes the CEOP Command at Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) as appropriate, to assist with enquiries of this kind. See Roles and Responsibilities Procedure.

4. Concern about an Adult

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Professionals may identify a concern through a relationship with a child or an adult, from visits to the family home or from information shared by the victim's friends or family.


A professional who has a concern should discuss this with their line manager and / or their agency's designated safeguarding children professional. See the London guidance for assessing children and families affected by adults viewing child sexual abuse images on the Internet (London Board 2010).


A concern about an adult should be shared even where there is no evidence to support it. A referral should be made to the police about the adult. The police must consider the possibility that the individual might also be involved in the active abuse of children and their access to children should be established, including family and work settings, and a referral made to local authority children's social care.

5. Allegations Against Colleagues

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Professionals in all agencies should be aware of alerting indicators amongst their subordinates and colleagues, and follow the procedures in Safe Recruitment and Selection, and the Management of Adults who Work with Children Procedure and Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers (People in Positions of Trust), who Work with Children Procedure.


Human resources and IT professionals should be aware of the new legal framework created by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

6. Supplementary Guidance

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The making, distribution and viewing of child sexual abuse images is instrumental in the ongoing sexual abuse of children, within organised abuse (sexual exploitation, sex rings and trafficking), within and outside the family and with adults and children, both known and unknown. Online abuse cannot be separated from offline abuse.


The distribution of child abuse images continues to grow (a recent UK police operation seized over 750,000 images). Research shows that in the UK, over eight million children have access to the internet and a high proportion of these children (1 in 12), have met someone offline who they initially encountered in an online environment.

7. Impact on Children

Caption: Impact on Children


Children have great difficulty in talking about their abuse, some denying that it is their image even when there is categorical proof. The reasons for this include that children:

  • Can experience intense feelings of powerlessness, knowing that there is nothing they can do about others viewing pornographic pictures / films of themselves (and sometimes their coerced sexual abuse of others) indefinitely;
  • Express concerns over how pornography will be viewed (i.e. that they enjoyed it or were complicit in its production);
  • Are aware that the sexual abuse they endured to produce the pornography can be distributed commercially or non-commercially for the arousal of others. They are also aware that it can be used to groom and abuse other children;
  • Suffer in the knowledge that there is a permanent record of their sexual abuse and this knowledge has implications for the need for long-term support and treatment of the children to reflect the harm that indefinite circulation can cause.


Children may also be shown images of their own abuse by their abuser, and they typically hold a personal responsibility for not stopping their own abuse and that of others involved. All these aspects reflect the impact of the grooming process of the abusers, who endeavour to make the child feel that it is their fault and that they could have stopped the abuse.

7.3 The NSPCC Report Remove Tool enables young people under the age of 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves which has appeared online. The Internet Watch Foundation will review these reports and work to remove any content which breaks the law.

8. Definition and Legislation

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The UK legislates against the production, distribution and possession of abusive images of children (also known as child pornography). It is an offence to take, permit to be taken, make, possess, distribute or advertise indecent images (photographs or pseudo-photographs) of children (Protection of Children Act 1978 England and Wales) as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.


The Serious Crime Act (2015) introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. 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  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).


An indecent image of a child is a visual record of the sexual abuse of a child, either through sexual acts by adults, other children (or which involves bestiality), or children posed in a sexually provocative way.


It is a serious arrestable offence to seek out images of child abuse. The making of (this includes the voluntary downloading of) and possession of such images carry maximum sentences of ten and five years respectively.


The UK laws which relate to child abuse images are:

9. Chat Room Grooming and Offline Abuse

Caption: Chat Room Grooming and Offline Abuse


Grooming of children online is a faster process than usual grooming, and totally anonymous. The abuser develops a 'special' relationship with the child online (often adopting a false identity), which remains a secret to enable an offline meeting to occur in order for the abuser to sexually harm the child. The abuser grooms online by finding out as much as they can about their potential victim, establishes the risk and likelihood of the child telling, finds out about the child's family and social networks and, if safe enough, will isolate their victim, usually through bribes or threats, and gain control.


Abusers may use child sexual abuse images to break down the child's barriers to sexual behaviour (and communicate to the child the abuser's sexual fantasies). Repeated exposure to abusive images is intended to diminish the child's inhibitions and give the impression that sex between adults and children is normal, acceptable and enjoyable.


There is an additional dimension to the silencing of children who have been groomed in chatrooms. Children's behaviour on the net is far less inhibited. They will talk about things and people and use language that they wouldn't in their everyday lives and they are fearful of those close to them finding out what they have said.


Children who have been 'duped' into believing that their online contact is a 'friend' have a serious concern of their own peer group finding out that they have been 'foolish' enough to be conned in this way. The majority say they would have told no one about their abusive experiences.

10. Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

Caption: Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)


The National Crime Agency which has the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) Command which brings together law enforcement officers, specialists from children's charities and industry to tackle online child sexual abuse. CEOP provides a dedicated 24 hour online facility for reporting instances of online child sexual abuse. See also Roles and Responsibilities, Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command.

11. Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships

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Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships should support parents to ensure the safest possible use of the internet and mobile telephones for their children through public awareness campaigns and support for member agencies to communicate this message through the many varied environments where children may have access to the internet.


The primary concern for teachers with regard to the online environment is the safe and effective supervision of pupils using the internet in schools. However, because many children are using the internet at home for homework, socialising, and playing games, schools need to work with parents in educating children about the positive ways in which the internet can be used but also some of the associated risks.


The UK Safer Internet Centre is coordinated by a partnership of three leading organisations; Child net International, the South West Grid for Learning and the Internet Watch Foundation. It is co-funded by the European Commission's Safer Internet Programme and is one of the 31 Safer Internet Centres of the Insafe network. The centre has three main functions: an Awareness Centre, a Helpline and a Hotline for advice on safer use of internet technology.

 The CEOP NCA Command website has additional information.