What is online child abuse?

Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet. It can happen across any device that's connected to the web, like computers, tablets and mobile phones. And it can happen anywhere online, including:

  • social media
  • text messages and messaging apps
  • emails
  • online chats
  • online gaming
  • live-streaming sites.

Children can be at risk of online abuse from people they know or from strangers. It might be part of other abuse which is taking place offline, like bullying or grooming. Or the abuse might only happen online.

Types of abuse include:

  • Grooming - is when someone builds a relationship with a child so they can sexually abuse, exploit or traffic them. Children and young people can be groomed online by a stranger or by someone they know
  • Sexting - is when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexual messages. It's online abuse if a child or young person is pressured or coerced into creating or sending these types of images
  • Sexual abuse - is when a child or young person is forced or tricked into sexual activities. Sexual abuse can happen online - for example, a child could be forced to make, view or share child abuse images or videos or take part in sexual activities on conversations online.
  • Child sexual exploitation - is a type of sexual abuse. When a child is sexually exploited online they may be persuaded or forced to create sexually explicit photos or videos or have sexual conversations

What are the signs of online abuse?

A child or young person experiencing abuse online might:

  • spend a lot more or a lot less time than usual online, texting, gaming or using social media
  • seem distant, upset or angry after using the internet or texting
  • be secretive about who they're talking to and what they're doing online or on their mobile phone
  • have lots of new phone numbers, texts or email addresses on their mobile phone, laptop or tablet
  • They may go missing from home a lot or skipping school

What are the effects of online abuse?

Online abuse can have long-lasting effects on children and young people. It can lead to:

  • anxiety
  • self-harm
  • eating disorders
  • suicidal thoughts

How do I talk to my child about it?

Any child who uses the internet can be at risk of online abuse. Its important parents or guardians are aware of the risks and talk to their child about staying safe online. Talk to them about these tips to stay safe online:

Think before you post - when posting or commenting on the internet, consider what you say and what effect this may have. Never post comments that are abusive or may cause offence to others.

Keep personal information personal - do not say anything or publish pictures that might later cause you or someone else embarrassment. Be aware of what friends post about you, or reply to your posts, particularly about your personal details and activities.

Make the most of privacy settings - keep your profiles closed, allowing access only to your chosen friends and family

Make sure you speak to your child in a kind, non-judgemental way that respects their sexuality, individuality and beliefs. Ensure that your child understands that they are never to blame if someone tries to make them do things that they don’t want to do.

It can be difficult to know what to say and do if a child tells you they're being abused online. They might not realise what’s happening is wrong. And they might even blame themselves. If a child talks to you about online abuse it’s important to:

  • listen carefully to what they're saying
  • let them know they've done the right thing by telling you
  • tell them it's not their fault
  • say you'll take them seriously
  • don't confront the alleged abuser
  • explain what you'll do next
  • report what the child has told you as soon as possible

Top 10 tips to staying safe online

How do I report it?

Child sexual exploitation and abuse is against the law. If you, or someone else, is in immediate danger then dial 999 and ask for help from the Police. To report a concern to the Police call 101 or digital 101 or contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board or Local Authorities Children's Services who will also be able help you. Please see the links below.

How to request removal of nude images online?

Young people aged under 18 who are worried a sexual image or video of them may have been shared online can use Childline and Internet Watch Foundation’s Report Remove tool at:


This helps children and young people to report an image or video shared online, to see if it is possible to get it removed. Once the report has been made, it keeps the young person informed at each stage and provides support and feedback where necessary.

Where can I get further help and support?

The charities, groups and organisations below can provide information and support.

Local Support:

National Organisations: