Last week, the Gamechanger team were very interested to read a recent Observer article “Toxic online culture fuelling rise in sexual assaults on children by other children police warn”.  This article highlights a recent Observer newspaper investigation in England and Wales that revealed a 40% increase in reports of sexual assaults and rapes where both victim and perpetrator were under 18.

The Observer investigation found that an alarming rise in sexual assaults on children by other children is being fuelled by access to a “toxic” online culture and specifically this investigation revealed a sharp increase in abuse by under-18s reported to police.

Worryingly, since the Covid pandemic, Police records of rape, sexual assaults and incidents of abuse carried out by young children in England and Wales have all seen significant increases. Alarmingly, the Observer, during the course of their investigation, uncovered an 81% rise in reported incidents that took place on school property.

In the report, Ian Critchley, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection, said that access to violent pornography and misogynistic content via smartphones was contributing to a “hugely concerning” trend. He called on social media firms to do more as he warned of the new dangers brought by artificial intelligence and the growth of “sextortion” among young people, where they are coerced into taking compromising pictures of themselves.

“While adults continue to always cause the greatest harm to a child, the recorded crime being committed over the last few years is a hugely concerning issue,” he said.

“The increased use of smart devices by young people, the access to harmful material [and] to violent pornography,” he added, has “become normalised now in the behaviour of young people.

Ultimately, we have tech companies who are making billions of pounds, who are influencing the behaviour of young people – who are putting profit before the impact that this is having on society.”

Critchley saw the implementation of the Online Safety Act, designed to clamp down on harmful content, as crucial in combatting the ever-growing issue.

In the article, The Observer examined data covering 39 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales released under the FOI Act. They found that between 2019 and 2022, there was a 40% increase in reports of sexual assaults and rapes where both the alleged victim and perpetrator were under 18. They also documented a 33% increase in rape reports and a 26% increase in reports where the allegation was against a child aged under 10.

While forces differed markedly in the extensiveness of the information they shared, responses showed that reports of sexual abuse, rape and some other sexual offences had increased from 20,000 in 2019 to more than 28,000 in 2022 and more than 2,700 incidents were recorded as taking place on school property in 2022.

These shocking statistics come just weeks after a report from the NPCC said that while offending by adults against children was usually more serious, 52% of alleged offenders were children.

The article cites Simon Bailey, who previously served as the NPCC’s lead for child protection as saying: “Young men in particular are being influenced by pornography and their social media feeds, and I believe the increases we are seeing in this crime type are behind this troubling trend. Urgent action is needed from all sectors to combat and prevent further escalation of these horrific crimes.”

Critchley said he had no intention to “criminalise a whole generation of young people”, instead urging tougher action from social media firms, for schools to be given a stronger statutory role in child safeguarding laws and for parents to engage their children in conversations about what is acceptable. “I speak very carefully as somebody who served in policing for a long time, but also a father of three,” he said.

“Conversations should take place in terms of what is acceptable, in terms of clearly seeking to dissuade and raise the awareness around the sharing of nude images, acceptable behaviour towards other people – particularly in terms of boys towards girls – and also confidence to report to somebody who’s trusted. And to not accept behaviour that shouldn’t be normalised or tolerated.”

Critchley warned that AI was creating new challenges and called on the major tech firms to tackle ways to ensure its safe use from the start. “We’re seeing nudification of both celebrities and also fellow classmates,” he said.

“It’s a further risk, but one in which we know we can use artificial intelligence in a positive way. Again, this needs to be designed out and prevented at the start rather than actually responding and consistently picking up the pieces, where victims and children have been hurt and harmed in the most appalling way.”

He also joined the call for the full implementation of the Online Safety Act, which obliges online platforms to prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content; to enforce age-limits; and to provide parents and children with clear ways to report problems.

At Gamechanger, we seek to make a difference to local communities through the creation of engaging, powerful programmes promoting community engagement to tackle the UK’s biggest social challenges. We are experienced, recognised training providers and delivery specialists with experiential learning and behaviour change at our core.

Gamechanger have curated a new programme of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) content for a new IMPACT Programme which is now available. IMPACT is a half-day blended learning intervention session which raises awareness through theatre-in-education (drama-based learning), interactive making meaning activities and experiential learning through gamechanger challenges to build emotional resilience

If you would like more information on any of Gamechanger’s programmes, please contact Richard Dawson on email or phone 07752 791545

Meet Gamechanger’s Partnerships and Business Development Executive, Juliet Chappell.

Juliet is a trained facilitator with over 10 years of experience in Theatre in Education (actor, writer workshop leader and director). She has a BA Hons in Modern History from the University of Oxford and a BA Hons in Acting from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. She is a qualified TEFL teacher and spent many years working across mainland Europe with a number of English language theatre companies and education providers. Juliet has also worked within the UK as an actor on stage and screen.

Juliet joined Gamechanger at the start of 2024, in a change of role from her career in the NHS. She is looking forward to focusing on business development and partnerships, with the hope of expanding the national provision of Gamechanger’s Impact and Intervention products. She is excited to see the portfolio evolve and is proud to be involved in the company’s mission to reach many vulnerable young people at risk of Child Criminal Exploitation and other major social issues.

Away from work, Juliet enjoys exploring the coast and moorland of her home county of Devon. Aside from hiking and sea swimming, she is interested in travelling, languages, theatre, current affairs and food (cooking and eating!)

Meet Gamechanger’s strategy and financial planning expert Richard Adam.

Richard’s role is to provide financial oversight and strategic support for Gamechanger. 

Richard is a qualified accountant and experienced Director with a background in manufacturing and digital businesses, including shared immersive spaces for education and simulated training environments. Richard is supporting the team with financial and strategic enterprise planning, providing a robust framework and development pathway underpinning the consistent and highest standards of service delivery and client satisfaction now and in the future.