Skip to navigation

Digital Dangers

Summary of 'Digital Dangers: the impact of technology on the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people'

Barnardo’s and Marie Collins Foundation. Authored by Tink Palmer, 2015

digital dangers report

Research conducted with a number of Barnardo’s services, both specialist child sexual exploitation and educational services, has revealed how integral new technology has become in the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The internet and new technologies have allowed potential victims to be accessible and available to perpetrators, who may be anonymous, quickly and freely in ways that would otherwise not be possible. Children and young people are now able to communicate more easily with people they would otherwise not usually interact with.

Children and young people at risk of harm online may not have any previous vulnerabilities that are often associated with being victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, such as being in care; from families facing adversities or having a history of sexual abuse. This means that they are less likely to be identified as they might not be known to the authorities. Also because of the nature of online activity the currently accepted indicators of possible sexual exploitation, such as going missing or school absence, may not be displayed, and the first parents may know that their child has been a victim of sexual exploitation is when the police contact the family.

Certain groups of children and young people, such as young people with learning difficulties, those with mental health problems and lesbian, gay bi-sexual, transgender and questioning young people, appear to be particularly vulnerable to online harm.

All professionals interviewed for the research believed that the development of new technology over the last eleven years has changed the way they have to work with young people and the methods of providing support.

The report highlights the need for:

  • Easier access to existing prevention resources and advice, including age-appropriate healthy relationships and sex education through schools
  • Training for all professionals working with children and young people so that they feel confident in identifying those at risk of harm online
  • Assessments to be carried out by support services to include abuse that relates to online harm only
  • Assessment of products, such as games and apps, both those currently in use and those in development, to make sure they have safeguards in place to prevent children being harmed online

Children and young people at risk of harm online may not have any previous vulnerabilities that are often associated with being victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Tink Palmer, Author