Child victims of online sexual abuse may not be getting the right protection or support because training for those who work with children hasn't kept pace with technological advances.
A survey of health, education and children's services workers across England has revealed a black hole in the knowledge and capabilities of professionals charged with assisting children who have been abused through the internet.
It added that while perpetrators have become more ingenious in their use of technology to engage with vulnerable children, the training available to professionals has not kept up.
The study was carried out by researchers at Plymouth University and University Campus Suffolk for the Marie Collins Foundation, a pioneering charity dedicated to improving services for children abused online.
"This shocking research demonstrates that while the internet has become a positive influence on many people's lives, there are still those who use it in a negative and sinister fashion," Andy Phippen, professor of social responsibility in IT at Plymouth University, said.
"The fast pace of its development has in many cases left the authorities playing catch-up and while some now have policies in place, a huge amount of work is required to ensure those affected by online abuse receive the correct support."
The results also showed 70 per cent of those respondents stated they had not received training in online risk assessment.
In addition, 81.1 per cent of the respondents said they had never had any training in helping children in their recovery from online abuse, with 94 per cent adding they would value such training.
"In the UK and internationally the response to the needs of children and their families is, at best, ad hoc," Tink Palmer, founder and chief executive of Marie Collins Foundation, said.
"Professionals lack confidence in assisting children in their recovery and it is apparent that this is due to a lack of adequate training."