August 14, 2020

OnlyFans: Online Risks Of Sexual Exploitation

In this episode of the HJ Talks About Abuse podcast, Alan Collins and Feleena Grosvenor discuss the topic of online abuse and how this is particularly relevant at the moment.

Over the decades as technology has grown, the concern over online child abuse has also increased. Children are very susceptible to online abuse such as grooming and exploitation, and as every young person appears to have access to a computer, a tablet or a mobile phone there are far more individuals at risk than ever before.

Online abuse can be defined as any type of abuse that happens on the internet. This may occur for example over social media, messaging apps, emails, online chats, online gaming and live-streaming sites. Children can be at risk of online abuse from people they know or from strangers. It might be part of other abuse which is taking place offline, like bullying or grooming, or the abuse might only happen online.

The Internet Watch Foundation, a charity that reports and removes online child abuse, revealed that in May during lockdown three major internet companies logged 8.8 million hits to child sexual abuse imagery from the UK alone.

With lockdown, and children largely not being at school, they have understandably been spending more time online and are at greater risk of being targeted. Young adults may also be online far more than usual and more vulnerable to online sexual exploitation given the COVID-19 circumstances, for example, they may have lost their job and have financial difficulties.

We were drawn to an article which described a man who made an “OnlyFans” account which is a content subscription service. Individuals post pictures and earn money from their “fans” who are those paying to see their content. Pornography is allowed and so it is popularly used in the adult entertainment industry.

The man involved described abuse and negativity he received from his subscribers to reveal and do more than he was comfortable with. Although the man involved was an adult the article identified it is easy to see how a younger person could be sexually exploited through this website.

The Home Office, when asked regarding this site by the Guardian, said that there were plans to "put a legal duty of care on online platforms, backed up by an independent regulator, to hold them to account" (this is outlined in the Online Harms White paper https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/online-harms-white-paper).

As “OnlyFans” is a relatively “simple” way to make money online it is easy to see how it could be seen as an attractive option for people who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation – a child or adult.

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual exploitation or online abuse to get in touch. You can contact Alan Collins or Feleena Grosvenor at alan.collins@hughjames.com or feleena.grosvenor@hughjames.com.

For more information about compensation for past sexual abuse visit https://www.hughjames.com/service/sexual-abuse-compensation or you can read more about this issue in the news here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jul/08/sharp-increase-in-uk-child-sexual-abuse-during-pandemic and https://www.bbc.com/news/business-53338019.

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