Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet, whether through social networks, online gaming or mobile phones.

It can take many forms, from young people being persuaded to share sexually explicit images of themselves, to being threatened, intimidated and harassed via the internet. The abuse can be emotional or sexual and in some cases involves children being groomed or exploited by an adult.

Any child or young person that uses the internet or has a smartphone could be a victim of online abuse regardless of their age, gender or background.

Many children and young people are affected by online abuse but often don’t tell anyone. They may trust their abuser, don’t understand that they’re being abused or are too scared to tell anyone what’s happening.

Online abuse may be part of, or lead to, abuse in the real world.


The signs that a child may be being abused online aren’t always obvious but there are some you can look out for, for example:

  • Spending more time than usual online or on their phone,
  • Being secretive about what they’re doing or who they’re talking to,
  • Hiding computer screens or taking phone calls in rooms away from other people,
  • Engaging less with family and usual friends,
  • Sudden personality changes or severe mood swings,
  • Having new things like phones or clothes that they can’t explain.

Report it

If you believe a child you know could be a victim of online abuse tell someone.

Contact the police on 101, or 999 if you believe they are at immediate risk from harm.

Alternatively you can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 for help and support.

Keeping children safe online

The internet plays a big part in most of our lives, offering great new opportunities both educationally and socially but it’s important we all understand the risks associated with being online and take simple steps to help keep children safe:

  • Understand the types of social media available to children and young people including age restrictions,
  • Know what your child is doing online and talk to them about it – no matter how old your child is it’s important to have regular conversations about the types of sites they’re accessing, what the dangers are and how they can stay safe,
  • Set up and manage parental controls on all your family’s devices. Watch our videos on how you can quickly and easily do this on a PS4 and Xbox One,
  • Reassure your child/children that they can talk to you about anything that is worrying them or that happens online,
  • For more information on how to help keep your children safe online visit the NSPCC's website.

Educational Resources

To support parents during COVID-19 and the closure of schools, the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection command are releasing free online activity packs fortnightly. They contain two 15-minute activities tailored to a number of different age groups and are focused on improving online safety.

Victims First

Providing specialist support to young people affected by crime – visit the Victims First website or call on 0300 234 148.

Stop It Now

If you are concerned about the sexual behaviour of an adult or a child, contact the Stop It Now helpline on 0808 1000 900