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Research suggests that 1.8 million British men may have engaged in online sex offenses against children.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have published research suggesting 300 million children globally might have been sexually exploited online.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh estimate 7 percent of British men—around 1.8 million individuals—have taken part in some form of online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

The university’s Childlight initiative, which aims to understand the prevalence of child abuse, has published a new report, Into the Light, which was based on surveys with men in Britain, Australia, and the United States.

They found 7 percent of British men in their sample admitted having deliberately viewed images of underage children, flirted or had a sexual conversation with a person below the age of 18 online, engaged in a sexually explicit webcam interaction with a child, or paid for images or videos of someone under 18.

That would extrapolate to 1.8 million British men.

The researchers also found many men admitted they would commit physical sexual offences against children if they thought it could be kept secret.

The data was obtained from a survey of 1,506 men living in the UK.

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The Childlight team found the prevalence was even higher in the United States, where 10.9 percent admitted to having taken part in online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA), which would extrapolate to 14 million Americans.

The researchers found that although the demand for child sexual abuse material was high in Western Europe and North America, the highest number per population was in the Middle East and North Africa.

The researchers also estimate 12.6 percent of the world’s children—around 302 million—have been victims of non-consensual talking, sharing, or exposure to sexual images and video in the last 12 months.

Childlight also found underage children often fall prey to “sextortion,” where adults or children of their own age threaten to make intimate images public and demand money or sexual favors in order not to do so.

The CEO of Childlight, Paul Stanfield, said the number of male offenders in the UK could fill Wembley Stadium 20 times over.

This ‘Must Serve as a Wake-up Call’

In his foreword to the report, Mr. Stanfield said, “Our assessment that at least 300 million children per year are subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse must serve as a wake-up call.”

“Our evidence must also serve as a wake-up call, that as many as one in nine men in parts of the world have sexually offended online against children, and that many would also go on to commit sexual contact offenses with children if they believed it could be kept secret,” he added.

Mr. Stanfield said, “Paradoxically this coincides with deeply troubling moves to roll out end-to-end encryption on major file-sharing platforms that are increasingly used to share sexual images of children, giving perpetrators scope to commit heinous crimes with impunity.”

Debi Fry, a professor of international child protection at the University of Edinburgh, said, “These aren’t harmless images, they are deeply damaging, and the abuse continues with every view and the failure of taking down this abusive content.”

Frida, who was targeted through social media from the age of 13 to 18 by a man in his 30s, said: “It was a deeply isolating experience. I felt ashamed and that I had done something wrong.”

“Childlight’s figures show that not only am I not alone in my experiences, but that more and more children are experiencing horrific abuse and exploitation online each day,” added Frida, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

‘Clear and Present Danger to the World’s Children’

Stephen Kavanagh, executive director of Interpol, said: “Online exploitation and abuse is a clear and present danger to the world’s children, and traditional law enforcement approaches are struggling to keep up.”

“We must do much more together at a global level, including specialist investigator training, better data sharing, and equipment to effectively fight this pandemic and the harm it inflicts on millions of young lives around the world,” he added.

In September 2023 when the Online Safety Bill became law, Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan described it as a “game-changing piece of legislation.”

She said at the time, “Today, this government is taking an enormous step forward in our mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.”

The Epoch Times has contacted the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) regarding the Childlight survey.

PA Media contributed to this report.

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