ARU research informs national awareness campaign

Published: 17 June 2024 at 10:30

Mobile phone

Young people told to stop and think as sharing nude imagery is becoming ‘normalised’

Research conducted by Anglia Ruskin University’s International Policing and Public Protection Research Institute (IPPPRI) has provided evidence and insight to inform a major new awareness campaign, designed to open a dialogue between parents and teens amidst the continued rise in the sharing and soliciting of nude images.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has launched the campaign today, which warns young people about the pitfalls of sharing their own and others’ explicit images. 

It comes following the second phase of research conducted by IPPPRI, in collaboration with the IWF and funded by the Oak Foundation, during which academics spoke with 307 young people who shared their experiences of growing up in a digital world, where they talk to their friends, game and do their schoolwork online. 

Many described receiving unwanted sexual images and some commented that it has become normalised and part of their lives. The apps they use, such as Snapchat and TikTok are also used by perpetrators to talk to children and groom them into sharing sexual images.  

These images and videos can quickly get out of hand and can even end up being shared by strangers on dedicated child sexual abuse websites. Warnings have also been shared that sending and soliciting nudes is becoming “normalised” in UK schools. 

The ‘Think before you share’ campaign, which is being endorsed and supported by Diane Morgan, star of TV shows Cunk on Earth, Motherland and Mandy, will help young people, parents, and teachers to “talk about it”. 

IPPPRI research warns that the taking and sharing of nudes has become increasingly common among young people in schools, and that in some cases groups of pupils, mainly boys, are engaging in a “football card collection culture” of nudes of their female peers. 

It also warns that pupils are being exposed to unsolicited “dick pics” online on a “very regular basis”. The IWF’s campaign, based on these findings, will help young people understand the issues and warn of the harm that can come from this imagery being shared. 

It will also offer help for parents in broaching this difficult topic, and assistance for anyone having imagery used against them in a range of situations, including sexually coerced extortion, or sextortion, attacks. 

A social media campaign, including videos on TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat, will deploy “cheeky” imagery, including suggestive images of fruits and vegetables, to help deliver the message to young people. Parents and carers will also be targeted on social media, as well as via radio and podcast ads starring Diane Morgan.

Professor Samantha Lundrigan, Director of IPPPRI at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“We’re pleased to support our partners at the IWF with our research once again. This campaign will help young people, parents and teachers deal with what is a very real and critical issue affecting every young person with access to the internet, in every country worldwide.

“Above all else, we found that talking about this issue with young people is key, and it needs to happen quickly. We know that the use of smartphones and the internet is here to stay, so it’s about how we make this part of education, conversation and day-to-day awareness. 

“We also spoke to parents and teachers who must also make themselves aware of the tools and guidance out there to help them, how to report nude images online, and how offenders are reaching young people in the first place – often via the platforms they use as part of everyday life. If we give young people the tools they need to keep themselves safe, we’re doing everything to help them understand the risks involved in sending and receiving nude images.”

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said:

“The amount of child sexual abuse imagery on the internet is ballooning every year, and we are finding criminals running dedicated commercial child abuse sites are harvesting imagery from wherever they can to cater for this horrifying demand.

“These images can and do get out of control once they are on the internet. They can be used to shame, embarrass, bully and also so easily fall into the hands of criminals and abusers.

“Children and young people need to know these people are out there. They need to know what could happen if their images get shared out of the original circle of trust. 

“They also need to know they are not alone, and that we, and others, are on hand and ready to help them if they find their imagery is being spread online, or if they fall victim to sextortion scams, threats, or intimidation.” 

Children who are facing threats online from criminals trying to extort money or imagery from them using the threat of publishing or sharing nudes can take steps to have the imagery removed from the internet, or pre-emptively blocked before they can be uploaded. 

Report Remove is a service run by the IWF and Childline which empowers young people to stop their imagery being shared on the internet and take action against threats of sexual extortion. 

The public is given this advice when making a report to
Do report images and videos of child sexual abuse to the IWF to be removed. Reports to the IWF are anonymous.
Do provide the exact URL where child sexual abuse images are located.
Don’t report other harmful content – you can find details of other agencies to report to on the IWF’s website.
Do report to the police if you are concerned a child may be in immediate danger. 

Parents and carers are encouraged to T.A.L.K to their children about the dangers.
Talk to your child about online sexual abuse. Start the conversation – and listen to their concerns.
Agree ground rules about the way you use technology as a family.
Learn about the platforms and apps your child loves. Take an interest in their online life.
Know how to use tools, apps and settings that can help to keep your child safe online.