Illegal content 

Just as criminals operate in the real world, criminal offences are also committed online – both in terms of illegal content and illegal activity.

As a general rule, anything that would be illegal in the real world is illegal in the digital world.

Although it depends on local laws, illegal content in the digital world includes images of child sexual abuse and extreme violence and racist material.

What do I need to know about illegal content? 

You need to be aware that your child could access illegal content online and also understand how you can help to minimise the risks.

“[A risk], which parents in Europe fear the most their children may face online, according to a Eurobarometer survey run by the [European] Commission, is exposure to inappropriate or illegal content, such as sexually or violently explicit images, racist content, but also information about self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders.” Viviane Reding, former European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, speaking at Safer Internet Day, February 2009


A number of organisations are working hard to make the internet a safer place for you and your family. Where illegal content is concerned, the European Union (EU), governments, law enforcement agencies, children’s charities, mobile and internet providers, the education sector and organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation have been working together for many years to take action against it.

The Internet Watch Foundation is one of a number of INHOPE hotlines funded by the European Union (EU) for more than a decade. It has been tasked with minimising the availability of child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world and criminally obscene or racist materials hosted in the UK. Because some of this content is hosted abroad, the IWF works closely with international partners to do this.

If you live in the UK and someone in your family comes across potentially illegal content on the internet, you can report it to the IWF hotline. The IWF works with the police to help trace the individuals responsible and take the appropriate action.

“If you stumble across child sexual abuse images, it’s crucial you report it to us. We are focused on the swift removal of these images and helping the international effort to bring those responsible to justice and rescue children from sexual exploitation.” Peter Robbins OBE, QPM of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)


The mobile industry has also taken action. The Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content was launched by the GSM Association in February 2008 to prevent users from accessing websites identified as hosting child sexual abuse content.

What action can I take? 

Talk to your son or daughter on a regular basis about what they do online and encourage them to come to you if they have any concerns about content they access or view online or if they’re upset by anything they see

Set up Parental Controls and Safe Search on your child’s computer based on their age and maturity – but remember, they might not be 100% effective and they aren’t a substitute for parental supervision. You can also get Parental Controls on mobiles, MP3 players, games consoles and other devices

If you or your child comes across potentially illegal content on the Web, report it to the relevant internet hotline in your country – it’s the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK

If you’re worried that your child – or another child – is in danger, contact the police immediately

Read our article about online grooming, where people contact children online with the intention of establishing a sexual relationship

If your child would like to speak to someone in confidence about something that has upset them online, they can contact Childline in the UK

Illegal Content video 

Where can I go for more information and support?