Sexting, nudes, dick-pics, or ‘self-generated’ child sexual abuse material has been the subject of research that we, at the PIER, have just finished on behalf of the IWF. ‘Self-generated’ child sexual abuse materials are images and videos which are taken by children and then shared either:

  • willingly, usually with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or
  • unwillingly, through coercion, or
  • shared by a third party without their consent.

Some of these images end up being distributed, sometimes sold, on the open and dark web by those with a sexual interest in children (see notes section, number 1). The National Crime Agency estimate that there are between 550,000-850,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual risk to children, and a large number of these will operate online. The IWF report that in the last year alone, there were more than 250,000 webpages assessed by them as containing ‘self-generated’ child sexual abuse material, with an increase in imagery of primary-aged children.

This blog gives a brief overview of what parents, teachers and children told us about these images and what you can do to help to keep children safe online.

The 307 children who took part in our research told us about 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 normalized 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.

This is a serious safeguarding issue, with wide-reaching consequences that we all need to learn more about. So, what can we do?


1. Talk to your kids. 

The children told us that the sending and receiving of these images often starts being an issue in secondary school. One child explained that “sharing images happens so much at school, more [needs] to be done about it”. IWF research has found that the age of children being abused online is getting younger and the parents we interviewed told us that they weren’t sure when to start talking to their children about this issue. Others explained that their child had shared or received images, or one of their peer group had, and they weren’t sure what to do or where to go for help.

The most important thing is to talk, and keep talking, to your children about these issues. The children who took part told us that they want their parents to stay calm if they have a problem and offer non-judgmental support. They were also concerned that their parents/carers would remove their phones which makes them feel less likely to disclose any abuse.

The IWF recommend thinking of the acronym TALK. This refers to:



  • Talk to your child about online sexual abuse. Start the conversation – and listen to their concerns and ensure that your children are not blamed or shamed if this happens to them.
  • 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.


2. Sex and Relationship Education – Be aware that children are learning about sex from the internet and online pornography.

Children told us that their sex and relationships education is often inadequate or inappropriate, so they turn to the internet to learn about sex. They explained that their parents don’t often talk about sex and relationships with them, and parents / carers commented that they found the conversations difficult and embarrassing.

Research has shown that children are viewing pornography at an increasingly younger age and almost 80% of those surveyed had viewed violent pornography before the age of 18. Teachers told us of some students who were gathering sexual images of other children, so there is also a ‘collecting culture’ emerging, which needs to be addressed. Talking to our children about healthy relationships can help challenge some of these behaviors and what they are seeing online.


3. Make yourself aware of all the help and guidance available.

Some of the parents / carers we interviewed didn’t know where to turn for advice. Many internet safety organizations have sections for both children and parents about online safety, some of which are linked below:

  • The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) offer guidance to parents on the issue of nude selfies, and tips on how to ‘Ask the Awkward’ which encourages regular chats with your child about online relationships.
  • The American National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have recently launched a new interactive resource, specifically on sextortion4 called ‘No Escape Room’ (see notes section, number 2).

Some of these organizations also offer tailored advice if your child has additional needs.


4. Know what to do if an image of your child has been shared online. 

You can report any sexual content of children online to the police on 101CEOP and the IWF.

There is also a useful tool called Report Remove. It is for children and young people aged under 18 in the UK, and enables them to report sexual images and videos of themselves and ask for them to be removed them from the internet. Images can often be removed from UK websites within hours.


5. Understand how perpetrators are targeting children online. 

Our research into the dark web forums showed that perpetrators target children on the platforms that we all use in our daily lives. The forums we analyzed showed how easy it is for offenders to build trust and groom children by chatting to them and asking them to do online challenges or games, prior to making sexual requests. It is important for children to understand that offenders often pretend to be someone of their age, or with the same interests as them. Once again, talking to children about these issues is of huge importance.

Finally, look out for the forthcoming campaign, being developed by the IWF from this research, which will be launched later this summer and aims to get everyone talking about the issue and help keep children safer online.


1. If you want to know more about the dark web, the National Crime Agency have launched a new short introductory film on their CEOP website: which they explain is only suitable for adults.

2. The worst-case scenario of this was highlighted recently in the tragic death of a boy who took his life, after being blackmailed online by someone who had accessed some nude/semi-nude images of him. This is termed ‘sextortion’ and the IWF report that there has been a “shocking” increase in this form of abuse. (IWF, 2023)