Please note that these reports contain graphic language and references to sexual violence and child sexual abuse.
Raises awareness of potentially harmful non-photographic content across the most popular pornography sites accessed by users in the UK, including children aged 6-17
Highlights widespread availability of pornographic content featuring popular children’s characters
Informs regulation in development to improve online safety across the globe
Supports existing action to tackle current availability online through international collaboration and enhanced research
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has today published the findings of joint research into non-photographic material that depicts the sexual abuse or exploitation of child or child-like characters. The key findings demonstrate the disproportionate exposure of UK children aged 6-17 to specialist non-photographic pornography sites, as well as highlighting the widespread availability of content featuring characters based on media properties likely to be familiar or appealing to children, such as popular animations or superhero films. The research has been welcomed by Barnardo’s, Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation, and the NSPCC.
The BBFC commissioned academics from the onlinePROTECT research group based at the University of Lincoln to review existing literature on the topic of Non-Photographic Abuse Imagery (NPAI)* and to conduct consultations with experts drawn from areas such as law, criminology and forensic psychology (Non-Photographic Images of Child Sexual Abuse: The Risks and Public Policy Responses). To complement this, the BBFC carried out an investigation to better understand the prevalence of potentially harmful non-photographic material on commercial pornography sites (Non-Photographic Images of Child Sexual Abuse: BBFC Content Investigation).
Using Comscore* data and analytics to inform the study, BBFC researchers investigated the top 100 most-visited pornography sites in the UK by users aged 6 and above, as well as the top 30 most-visited pornography sites in the UK by under-18s (in two stages: ages 6-12 and ages 6-17). Findings reveal statistics on the prominence of non-photographic material generally, and of material that may be harmful in terms of promoting an interest in abusive relationships. The report cites a number of genuine video titles noted during the content investigation, which include graphic references to sexual violence and child sexual abuse. In certain cases, there were indicators that suggested the material on offer might constitute prohibited images of children, which are illegal to possess in the UK.
Key insights of the Non-Photographic Images of Child Sexual Abuse: BBFC Content Investigation:
Compared to adults, UK children aged 6-12 are disproportionately exposed to pornography sites specialising in non-photographic content. When investigating the top 30 sites (excluding cam sites*) visited by different age ranges, the findings showed that:
50% of those visited by children aged 6-12 specialised in non-photographic pornography
21% of those visited by children aged 6-17 specialised in non-photographic pornography
none specialised in non-photographic pornography when adult users were included in the sample
65% of non-cam sites in the top 100 visited by all ages carried non-photographic content that may be potentially harmful, specifically in terms of promoting an interest in abusive relationships and/or might constitute non-photographic images of child sexual abuse
48% of non-cam sites in the top 100 visited by all ages carried content featuring characters based on media properties likely to be familiar or appealing to children
Key harms identified in the Non-Photographic Images of Child Sexual Abuse: The Risks and Public Policy Responses report:
Potential harm to children arises both as viewers of NPAI and as subjects of harm from adult viewers
Exposure to prohibited content can distort attitudes towards child sexual abuse
The first sexual images seen by children can include abusive imagery within hentai*
NPAI can be used to groom children sexually
Non-abusive cartoon-like material can be a stepping stone to more coercive, demeaning or aggressive material
Social taboos can be transgressed through viewing non-photographic material without the feelings of guilt or shame that can arise from viewing similar photographic material
David Austin OBE, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said: “These findings will be concerning to read, but we hope that our research will increase awareness of potentially harmful content, in support of action to tackle its availability online. We are happy to have worked with onlinePROTECT on this project and welcome their findings. Protecting children and vulnerable adults is our core mission, and we are pleased to be publishing this research at a time when it can help to inform the development and implementation of the new Online Safety regime. Positive regulatory advances - led by Ofcom - will help to reduce the harm risk to children and society more widely, as part of the Government’s goal to make the UK the safest place to be online in the world.”
Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “Material depicting the sexual abuse of children normalises and perpetuates some of the most harmful kinds of behaviour. This is true even for cartoons or other non-photographic depictions of child sexual abuse, and we know that accidently viewing child sexual abuse material online, even if it is CGI, drawn or a cartoon, can cause lasting damage for the person who stumbled upon it. It’s also illegal in the UK to host this type of material. Members of the public can report this material to the Internet Watch Foundation which works to find and remove illegal sexual imagery of children. This area of the law, however, is not completely clear, and we would welcome steps which would allow more to be done to tackle non-photographic imagery of children.”
Lynn Perry MBE, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, said: “The BBFC’s new research provides further evidence that children are being exposed to harmful pornography online on a daily basis. That’s why we urge the Government to ensure age verification is robust and enacted quickly to protect a generation of children from harmful pornography. The disparity in regulation between online and offline pornographic content needs addressing, along with the introduction of age verification for pornography sites. Viewing harmful pornography can have serious consequences for children’s mental health, their understanding of consent, and their perception of healthy relationships.”
Will Gardner OBE, Chief Executive of Childnet, said: “We are pleased to support the timely publication of this thought-provoking research by the BBFC into non-photographic material that depicts the sexual abuse or exploitation of child or child-like characters and non-photographic pornography. Our core mission at Childnet is to work in partnership with others to help make the internet a safer place for children. These findings that non-photographic pornography content is currently available to children highlight why the proposals in the Online Safety Bill on helping protect children from online pornography are vital. The concerns around children seeing this content at least match those of seeing ‘real’ pornography, but are potentially even more concerning.”
Hannah Ruschen, Child Safety Online Senior Policy Officer at the NSPCC, said: “It is distressing that this research shows that non-photographic abuse imagery is leading abusers towards darker and more extreme content. We also know that content like this can serve as an organising tool for offenders to identify one another and share illegal child sexual abuse material. With the Online Safety Bill’s return to Parliament, it is crucial that our politicians seize the opportunity to create a piece of legislation that will encompass the many nuances of online child abuse now and in the future. Tech firms must act to stop their sites facilitating child abuse with tougher measures in place for executives that fail to tackle content like that highlighted in the BBFC report which causes real-world harm to children.”
Notes For Editors:
Please note that these reports contain graphic language and references to sexual violence and child sexual abuse.
You can request access to the full reports by emailing us on email@example.com. For more information, please get in touch with Izzy Baker or Faye Harcourt on +447946 423719 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Further information and press assets can also be found on the Media Centre.
The BBFC is independent and not-for-profit, and is here to help everyone in the UK choose age-appropriate films, videos and websites, wherever and however they watch or use them. Now, as well as classifying films released in UK cinemas and on DVD and Blu-ray, it’s providing age-ratings for Video On Demand and music videos online, and helping mobile phone operators set parental controls at the right level.
The BBFC is a recognised expert in pornography and its impact on young people, with statutory responsibility for the regulation of pornographic content released on physical media formats in the UK. Please visit bbfc.co.uk for further information.
onlinePROTECT is an international research and consultancy group based at the University of Lincoln dedicated to enhancing the safety of children and young people in online and offline environments.
This report should be read in conjunction with Non-Photographic Images of Child Sexual Abuse: BBFC Content Investigation.
The BBFC commissioned academics from the onlinePROTECT research group based at the University of Lincoln to work on this project. Grounded in international legal and policy frameworks, a comprehensive account of existing research is provided, identifying how NPAI is conceptualised differently across varying historical and cultural contexts, and examining the harms of exposure to viewers, particularly children. Supported by expert interviews, the research analyses the use of NPAI in the context of the grooming of minors. Differences in definitions used in this area are highlighted in this research, which calls for a clear and precise definition of NPAI to be introduced on the global stage.
This investigation should be read in conjunction with Non-Photographic Images of Child Sexual Abuse: The Risks and Public Policy Responses.
The content investigation, researched and prepared by the BBFC, provides an overview of the prevalence of potentially harmful non-photographic material, including material which may constitute non-photographic images of child sexual abuse, on the most-visited pornographic websites in the UK.
As prohibited images of children are a possession offence under UK law, the BBFC devised a research methodology to produce results that mitigated the risk of researchers being exposed to potentially illegal content. Please note that for this reason the BBFC’s content investigation cannot be definitive on the nature of the content, any related harm risk, or its legal status: the researchers have assessed only the extent to which the content may be harmful/illegal based on how it is presented on the site.
Cam sites: A website where performers can live stream themselves performing sexual acts. Due to the nature of cam sites, they cannot be expected to carry much if any non-photographic content, and so were discounted during the BBFC's content investigation.
Comscore: Comscore is a global media measurement and analytics company. Every household that signs up to Comscore consents to their internet usage being tracked with its software.
Hentai: A specific genre of Japanese manga (“comics”) and anime, depicting sexually explicit images and narratives.
Non-Photographic Abuse Imagery (NPAI): Non-photographic material that depicts the sexual abuse or exploitation of child or child-like characters. This type of material would in many cases likely align with prohibited images of children, as defined in Section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), and which are illegal to possess in the UK.