Ruth Edwards MP raises the COVID-19 related rise in online child abuse in Home Affairs Select Committee

On Wednesday 15th April, the Home Affairs Select Committee turned its attention to the heightened risks of domestic and child abuse during the Covid-19 crisis. Ruth Edwards MP is a member of this committee and questioned witnesses on the troubling issue of child abuse online. She also explored whether the community networks established during Covid-19 could be utilised after the pandemic to help victims of domestic abuse.

While the Government’s lockdown and social distancing measures have been put in place to save lives during the coronavirus outbreak, it is sadly the case that victims of domestic abuse may find that their situations worsen. Not only could they find it more difficult to get the support they need, but the abuse they suffer may intensify.

This Committee session was an opportunity to look into these issues and identify further steps the Government could take. Indeed, the Home Secretary recently announced a national communications campaign to reach out to those who are at risk from abuse, highlighting that they can still leave their home – to get the support they need. Domestic abuse charities can also benefit from the Government’s recent £750 million support package for voluntary organisations.

During the session, each of the witnesses provided evidence about what they are seeing on the ground through their respective organisations. Concerningly, Eleanor Butt of Refuge detailed a 49% increase in calls on the charity’s domestic abuse helpline, while Anna Edmondson of the NSPCC outlined troubling statistics relating to child abuse and neglect.

Ruth recently held a meeting with the Internet Watch Foundation which works to remove images of child sexual abuse online. Ruth directed her first question to Anna Edmondson, outlining that the Internet Watch Foundation has reported a large spike in both the reporting of online sexual abuse content but also self-generated content that children have been manipulated into creating. Ruth asked Anna if this is reflected in the NSPCC data, and also queried what is being done on messaging to ensure that children and parents are having conversations needed to keep children safe.

Anna made clear that this is a matter of significant concern. The NSPCC is working with partner organisations to get the full picture and develop a comprehensive response. The NSPCC Net Aware campaign here also provides vital tools for parents to protect their children online. Encouragingly, Anna commented that the Home Office is making an impressive early start to leading the conversation between international partners, tech platforms and child protection charities but there is more still to do.

Finally, Ruth asked all of the witnesses on the panel of the extent to which the volunteer networks that have been built up could be used to identify and help victims of domestic abuse more broadly. The response was positive with each of the witnesses agreeing that such local groups could play a pivotal role in supporting victims of abuse in the future.

You can see the Home Affairs Select Committee session in full here: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/88d6e602-6475-4002-96b8-f2cbd71cfcbb

If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247, or you can call the Police on 999.

If you have evidence that you would like to submit on the subject of heightened domestic abuse during the Covid-19 outbreak, you can submit this to the Home Affairs Select Committee here: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/83/home-affairs-committee