Research into self-generated child sexual abuse material (CSAM)

Internet Matters has joined forces with Nominet, the public benefit internet company, and Praesidio Safeguarding to explore how we can combat the growing issue of self-generated CSAM online.

A teen looks at their smartphone in their bedroom.

About the research

Internet Matters is partnering with Nominet and expert research agency Praesidio Safeguarding to take action against the spread of so-called self-generated child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online.

We are working with young people, parents and professionals to understand how preventative messaging can be designed and deployed to protect children from this growing form of exploitation.

What is self-generated CSAM?

‘Self-generated’ child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is a term (albeit imperfect) to describe indecent imagery produced and shared by children and young people.


The scale of CSAM

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has warned of an alarming rise in self-generated CSAM in circulation in the UK in recent years – from 38,000 cases in 2019 up to 182,000 cases in 2021 and almost 200,000 in 2022.

What does the research explore?

Internet Matters is leading a project, with funding from Nominet, to understand how to protect children from this appalling crime through more effective preventative education.

While many school-based programmes and initiatives exist in this space, little is understood about which specific messages are most effective in preventing children from sharing intimate images online, and the best way to reach children with interventions. Our aim is to identify a set of messaging and a delivery method to disrupt grooming pathways and prevent the creation of imagery. We hope that our findings will guide the collective efforts of the online safety sector in protecting children from the harms of self-generated CSAM distribution.

Children are not responsible for their abuse

Children may be groomed, manipulated or extorted into generating an intimate image or video of themselves, which can then be circulated more widely through peer groups or offender networks online. Young people may also choose to share intimate imagery with one another consensually, for it to later be shared non-consensually with others. In either circumstance, it is important that we resist language which implicitly or explicitly blames children for their abuse.

There is support available for children whose images have been shared online, such as NSPCC and the Internet Watch Foundation’s Report Remove tool. Even so, the sense of losing control of an image and knowledge that it may be available for others to view online will be immensely distressing for any child, young person or adult. For this reason, it is vital that all children are equipped with the social and emotional tools to protect themselves from exploitation.

The research process

Working with panels of young people aged 11 to 18 – including a subset of vulnerable children – parents, caregivers and professionals:

  • Round 1 will consider the effectiveness of existing interventions and prevention messages.
  • Round 2 will refine effective prevention messaging and explore how more effective prevention messages could be deployed.
  • Round 3 will test refined prevention messages and deployment methods with our panels of young people, parents and professionals.

As in previous years, children aged 11 to 13 appear most frequently in the ‘self-generated’ material detected and removed by IWF. For this reason, our research is focussed on prevention within this age group – drawing on the current experience of 11-13-year-olds, and the reflective views of teenagers in older age groups.

We are very excited to partner with Praesidio Safeguarding, who will bring their wealth of expertise and insights into digital safety and wellbeing to this project.

The project will conclude and report in the first quarter of 2024.

Who are Praesidio Safeguarding?

Praesidio is an independent safeguarding agency that delivers strategic advice and guidance, research and insight, investigations and thematic reviews and an extensive education programme.