Social workers 'struggling to deal with online child sex abuse'

The NSPCC said social workers were struggling to keep pace with online child abuse. Credit: PA Wire

Social workers are struggling to deal with a "significant increase" in online child sex abuse, a new report warns.

The research, commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), found that child protection workers were dealing with more examples of abusive behaviour such as revenge porn by fellow children.

Jon Brown, who leads the NSPCC's work on sexual abuse, said workers often struggled to deal with "peer-to-peer" abuse cases and needed more training to recognise and respond to the issue.

"Peer-to-peer abusive behaviour, or sexually coercive behaviour that manifests in the form of sexting and coercive behaviour online - we've seen a significant increase in that," he said.

"Typically, it's online-based and involves the use of social networks."

Mr Brown said messages through popular culture and the "easy access to online pornography" were creating confusion among children "about what consent means sharing of imagery and expectations within relationships."

Brown said sexually explicit images exchanged between children can easily be shared more widely online.

"Then of course it can immediately become a more pressing child protection concern because then they can fall into the hands of adults with ulterior motives," he added.

The report also claimed that victims of child abuse may not be getting the required support because of the pressure on social workers.

One social worker told researchers: "I actually got to the point the other day when I said to my daughter, 'I might have to take you into care because at least I'd have to see you then'."