IWF analysts finding fifteen times more child sexual abuse content online than they were ten years ago

29 Nov 2021 UK SIC

IWF analysts are finding more than fifteen times as much child sexual abuse material on the internet as they were ten years ago, as experts battling a “tidal-wave of criminal material” urge law-makers to make protecting children a priority.

New figures from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, reveal the number of websites their expert analysts have worked to remove after they were discovered to contain images or videos of child sexual abuse has increased a “mammoth” 1,420% since 2011.

The IWF is the UK-based charity which works globally to find and remove child sexual abuse imagery from the internet. They also provide a suite of services and datasets for tech companies to help prevent the distribution of this criminal material.

This month the IWF’s hotline had assessed and taken action to remove 200,000 reports of child sexual abuse material since the start of the year. This is the first time the IWF has ever actioned such a large volume of reports.

In 2020, itself a record year for the IWF, the charity took action to remove a total of 153,350 sites for the entire year.

When Susie Hargreaves OBE, began in her role as Chief Executive of the IWF in 2011, the IWF’s hotline actioned a total of 13,161 reports of confirmed child sexual abuse material during the entire year. 2021’s figures to date represent a 1419.64% increase in confirmed cases of child sexual abuse content.

The increase in numbers reflects the growing availability of material depicting the rape and sexual torture of children and babies on the open web. But IWF analysts are also becoming more and more adept at finding and identifying criminal content. New technologies, like the IWF’s crawlers and IntelliGrade systems, as well as close working relationships with tech companies, are also helping to make sure more content is removed more quickly once analysts discover it.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO and UKSIC Director, said: “We’re continuing to build world-class technology which helps us, and companies globally, to tackle this criminality, but it’s the work of our human analysts which really sets the IWF apart.”

Despite the advances, the IWF is warning that the explosion of criminal material in the last decade needs a real and definitive drive to stem the “tidal wave” of criminal material.

Ms Hargreaves said: “I took up my position as CEO of the IWF in 2011 and, since then, we have seen a truly mammoth increase in the amount of this harmful, hurtful material available freely on the open web. We’ve more than tripled the number of analysts at the IWF in that time.

“In 2014 we were given the ability to proactively search for this material which was a game-changer for us, making us unique among non law-enforcement bodies. But the sad fact is, the problem has outpaced the efforts around the world.

“We’re continuing to build world-class technology which helps us, and companies globally, to tackle this criminality, but it’s the work of our human analysts which really sets the IWF apart.

Our analysts, every day, are holding back a tidal wave of criminal material, preventing it from spreading even further online, and stopping criminals from sharing the horrendous abuse of innocent children. This is why the role we play in the online safety regulation is so important.

“We need to see real action now to halt this rise. The new Online Safety Bill is a once in a generation opportunity to make sure children’s safety is front and centre, and that our digital future is built around a core of measures to protect children.”

The IWF was set up in 1996. Its team of dedicated analysts scour the internet to identify child sexual abuse material, which they then work internationally to remove, working alongside tech companies and law enforcement.

Over the last 25 years, the IWF has reduced the amount of illegal child sexual abuse content hosted in the UK from 18% in the year the IWF was founded, to less than 0.1% last year.

IWF analysts also assess and act on reports made by members of the public. October 26 marked 25 years since the first public report was made to the IWF.

Images and videos of online child sexual abuse can be reported anonymously at https://report.iwf.org.uk/en

The public is given this advice when making a report:

  • Do report images and videos of child sexual abuse to the IWF to be removed. Reports to the IWF are anonymous.
  • Do provide the exact URL where child sexual abuse images are located.
  • Don’t report other harmful content – you can find details of other agencies to report to on the IWF’s website.
  • Do report to the police if you are concerned about a child’s welfare,
  • Do report only once for each web address – or URL. Repeat reporting of the same URL isn’t needed and wastes analysts’ time.
  • Do report non-photographic visual depictions of the sexual abuse of children, such as computer-generated images. Anything of this nature, which is also hosted in the UK, the IWF can get removed.

Notes to editors:

  • 200,000 actioned reports threshold was reached on 1 November 2021.

The UK Safer Internet Centre is a partnership of three leading online safety organisations: Childnet InternationalInternet Watch Foundation and South West Grid for Learning, with a shared mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online. The UK Safer Internet Centre coordinates Safer Internet Day each year, reaching millions of young people, parents, carers and educators across the UK, giving them the vital information and support they need to keep young people safe online.

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