Into the Light, a report published by the Childlight Global Child Safety Institute at the University of Edinburgh Childlight, brings the prevalence of online child sexual exploitation and abuse out of the shadows.

The recently published report collected and assessed global data on online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA), and the findings are clear: OCSEA is an unacknowledged “hidden pandemic.”


online child sexual abuse prevalence

According to Childlight, the three most identified forms of OCSEA are producing, sharing and/or viewing CSAM, sexual solicitation and grooming.


An international health crisis

OCSEA occurs in every country worldwide. As technology continues to advance, the number of children exposed to sexual crime online is growing dramatically.

Some are being lured into non-consensual sexting, others are asked to perform unwanted sexual acts by adults or other youths, and more children than ever fall victim to ‘sextortion’, sometimes even involving fake AI-generated images. With Into the Light, Childlight has published the first-ever global index that quantifies these crimes and shows the drastic number of cases that occur around the globe. 

The organisation’s CEO Paul Stanfield says: “This is a global health pandemic that has remained hidden for far too long. It occurs in every country and is growing exponentially. We need to act urgently and treat it as a public health issue that can be prevented. Children can’t wait.” 


Percentage of children reportedly experiencing online sexual solicitation in the 12 months prior to data collection © Childlight


The scale of OCSEA

300 million children were victims of OCSEA in the past 12 months. This is more than 11 times the population of Australia. 

In the same time frame, 1 in 8 children globally have been exposed to online solicitation, which can include non-consensual sexting or unwanted sexual act requests by adults or other youths.

South Asia holds one-third of all sexual abuse material alerts, the highest number globally.

And, in total, reportedly 7.5% of men in Australia, 7% of men in the UK and 11% of men in the US admitted to having engaged in behaviours classified as OCSEA


Childlight faces the issue of often limited or missing data in their investigations


Data limitations 

The Into the Light Index showcases data collected from 57 countries, obtained from national surveys, research and professional estimates. However, Childlight states that data in the area of OCSEA differs extremely in quality and quantity and is generally very limited. Therefore, there are still a lot of gaps in the report that call for further investigation and a revision of sources. Due to the dramatic extent of the initial findings, Childlight decided to publish the index regardless to alert the general public and make a difference sooner rather than later. 

“Whilst many gaps and inconsistencies remain, it provides a baseline by which we can measure the sector’s progress in understanding the true scale and nature of child sexual exploitation and abuse,” says Mr Stanfield. 


Paul Stanfield, CEO of Childlight © Martin Shields


Future developments and a call for action

From now on, a new and refined version of the Into the Light Index will be published annually. Future plans include filling all the gaps, expanding the report to not only cover OCSEA, but all forms of child abuse, and giving a detailed country-to-country overview instead of just regional coverage.

Childlight asks every organisation and individual that has access to valuable data to collaborate with them in order to expand their records and fight the criminal exploitation of children. While they provide a theoretical analysis of the crisis, it is now up to governments and policy makers to initiate change. 

As Mr Stanfield puts it: “Online child sexual exploitation and abuse exists because it is allowed to exist. With sufficient will, it is preventable.”

To learn about how you can support children exposed to trauma, read our Q&A with kids foundation pioneer Dr Susie O’Neill.