This project will develop approaches aimed at preventing online child sexual victimisation.
Led by Professor Corinne May-Chahal (Lancaster University) and Professor Adam Crawford (University of York and University of Leeds), the research team will look at online child sexual victimisation (OCSV) in Blackpool. They will explore current preventative efforts from organisations across police, education, health, social care and the voluntary sector in Blackpool. In collaboration with these services as well as parents, children and young people, and community members, a preventative tool will be developed to tackle this growing problem.
The team hope to co-develop an Online Child Sexual Victimisation Quality Standards Framework (OCSVQSF) to improve prevention work. In other areas of interpersonal violence, particularly domestic violence, tools have been developed to enhance early intervention and support service provision for vulnerable groups.
In the field of health, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has supported action in countries across the world to develop a Quality Standards Approach. The team proposes adapting this approach to OCSV in one locality, to provide a set of standards and indicators that practitioners and stakeholders can refer to as a means of measuring best practices and identifying risk.
Therefore, this project seeks to develop a quality standards framework for OCSV with input from those who work within this field (practitioners, police), but also with families, communities, and those with lived experiences of online abuse, in Blackpool. The project will assess how effective the framework is, hoping that it can be adopted in different areas across the UK and around the world.
Online child sexual victimisation presents an immediate major challenge for policing, particularly considering the increasing number of young children (aged 10 and below) being involved and the lack of knowledge around what OCSV might entail and how it might manifest. ‘Online child sexual victimisation’ is a phrase that encompasses a broad range of activities, the most of prominent of which include sharing and engaging with digital forms of child sexual abuse or exploitation, online grooming practices, and self-generated material by children.
In the UK, levels of child sexual abuse, particularly OCSV, have increased rapidly over the last five years (Home Office, 2021). Between April and August 2020, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) witnessed an increase of 11% in their Childline counselling sessions in relation to online sexual abuse. There was also a 60% increase in reports from adults concerned about children experiencing online child sexual abuse (Home Office, 2021, p.31).
However, responses to different forms of OCSV are fragmented and rarely target specific kinds of offence. Prevention work tends to focus on detecting child sexual abuse after images or footage have appeared online. There is far less activity targeted at stopping children becoming victims (primary intervention) and immediate responses after a child has been abused to prevent it happening again (secondary prevention).
More needs to be done to increase awareness of OCSV in communities, health settings, schools and domestic environments, and provide more resilient and effective mechanisms by which this issue may be identified and prevented by police and practitioners. Future work should help parents, teachers, social workers and the police address signs of vulnerability in children in their care and put measures in place locally to prevent OCSV.
This project aims to:
- Understand how the police, charities, voluntary groups and the public – particularly parents and children – identify and address OCSV and the links with vulnerability;
- Identify how the police can best work with others, including international partners, to anticipate, respond to and prevent OCSV and the harms and vulnerability associated with it;
- Co-produce a locality-based online child sexual victimisation quality standards framework that can be applied nationally with scope to develop in an international context.
This 30-month project consists of three phases:
Phase 1 (months 1-12)
The researchers will conduct a rapid evidence review and map services across Blackpool, particularly in areas where certain forms of OCSV are more prominent. The team will work with key services in Blackpool (such as police, local government, social work, charities and voluntary bodies), as well as community members (including children, young people and parents) to facilitate this. This work will be complemented by a case file analysis of online child sexual abuse cases recorded by Lancashire police over a 12-month period to better understand the distribution, concentration and nature of OCSV in Blackpool.
Phase 2 (months 12 – 24)
The team will conduct a series of workshops with victims of OCSV, service providers (such as police, health, social care and charities and voluntary bodies), and the wider community (such as parents and young people). Following preparatory workshops, groups will then be brought together to develop an innovative online child sexual abuse quality standard tool.
Phase 3 (months 24 – 30)
The tool will be piloted among community services in two police force areas with an evaluation at the end of year 3. A group of children and young people will be recruited to design and deliver the evaluation with the research team.