The Problem of Self-Generated Images

The Problem of Self-Generated Images

“In the 60s we had girly magazines,” says child crime expert Richard Wistocki. “In the 80s we had VHS. Then we had chat rooms with webcams. Now we have cell phones in kids’ hands.”

Wistocki’s words in the unnerving documentary Childhood 2.0 allude to the evolving relationship between technology and explicit content. For children these days, explicit content is as easily accessible as ever. But children aren’t just finding this content - they’re creating it too.


What are self-generated images?

This term refers to any explicit image a child or adolescent has created themselves, commonly within their own homes. According to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), an organization aiming to eliminate child sex abuse images online, almost half (44%) of the images reported to them in 2020 were self-generated. This is a 16% increase from 2019. 

Needless to say, self-generated images are one of the biggest issues faced by those wanting to keep children safe online, and the issue is growing. 


Why do young people make these images?

Learning more about why young people create and share self-generated content can help prevent it from happening. According to a survey by Internet Matters, 18% of 11-16 year-olds reported being pressured or blackmailed into making images, while another 15% said they were tricked into it. In other words - children are at risk of being coerced online. 

But coercion isn’t the only reason children may create and share these pictures - screens also remove inhibitions. Whether a child is seeking popularity or validation on social media, when the individual requesting intimate pictures is hidden behind a phone screen, the idea of sharing images becomes less concerning for children. 

This is especially true for older children, who often expect it - Internet Matters reported that 38% of teenagers created intimate images willingly because they were in a trusting relationship. But this comes with caveats… if the relationship sours, can you guarantee an ex won’t use images against you?


What can we do to protect children?

Children shouldn’t see sharing intimate photos as a ‘normal’ part of being a teenager. Our best defence is to be engaged parents and educators. If you suspect your child may be considering sharing inappropriate images, we recommend three preventative actions:

  • Talk early, and talk often. - Don’t wait for the damage to be done before talking with your child about intimate images. Small, frequent chats show your child it’s safe to ask tough questions. For tips on how to approach these topics, click here for conversation starters that will help you get the ball rolling.

  • Highlight the seriousness of this issue. - Make sure your child understands that creating and sharing explicit images of people under 18 is against the law - even photographing themselves. However, the law is designed to go after adults who share these images, not the children who take them, so they won’t be punished for making a mistake.

  • Know where to look for help. - If you think your child has produced or shared a self-generated image, there are steps you can take to help. If an explicit photo of your child has been posted online, there are organisations who can take it down. Try contacting: 
    • The Internet Watch Foundation(IWF) and CEOP (a part of the National Crime Agency). Both allow us to report explicit images online.
    • Children can call Childline on 0800 1111 for free, confidential advice.
    • Adults who are worried about a child can contact the NSPCC on 0800 800 5000.

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