IWF Awareness Day

24 Oct 2012 UK SIC

Young people are warned they may lose control over their images and videos once they are uploaded online.

This follows a study by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). It shows 88% of the self-generated, sexually explicit online images and videos of young people their analysts encountered had been taken from their original location and uploaded onto other websites.

The findings from this study will inform the work of the UK Safer Internet Centre – a partnership between the IWF, Childnet and the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) aiming to empower and support children and young people to use the Internet safely.

Childnet and the SWGfL have developed two resources to help raise awareness of the potential consequences of sharing sexually explicit images and videos and to provide advice and guidance on how to support children and young people who have shared such images.

The study, which was carried out using data collected throughout September 2012 by IWF Internet Content Analysts, aimed to establish a snapshot of how many self-generated, sexually explicit images and videos of young people there are online.

It also sought to discover how much of this content was copied from its original source and put on other websites.

In less than 48 working hours,IWF analysts encounteredmore than 12,000 such images and videos spread over 68 websites.

Most of the images and videos (88%) appeared on ‘parasite websites’, meaning they were taken from the original area where they were uploaded and made public on other websites.

These parasite websites had often been created for the sole purpose of offering sexually explicit images and videos of young people and therefore contained large amounts of sexually explicit content.

Sarah Smith, IWF Technical Researcher, said: “During the course of our work we encounter large quantities of self-generated sexual content which has been copied from its original location and then uploaded elsewhere to form collections, but this is the first time we’ve been able to demonstrate the extent to which this occurs.”

Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “This research gives an unsettling indication of the number of images and videos on the internet featuring young people performing sexually explicit acts or posing.

“It also highlights the problem of control of these images – once an image has been copied onto a parasite website, it will no longer suffice to simply remove the image from the online account.

“We need young people to realise that once an image or a video has gone online, they may never be able to remove it entirely.”

Will Gardner, Director of UK Safer Internet Centre at Childnet, said:“In all of our work we see that conversations and education with young people are vital in helping them to stay safe online. We have developed a practical drama-based educational resource that addresses and questions the sensitive issue of sexting – the sending of sexually explicit messages or photos electronically – to fully support teachers in starting this important dialogue with pupils and to help young people think about, role play and understand the consequences of creating and sending indecent images.”

David Wright, Director of UK Safer Internet Centre at SWGfL, said: “Much of the advice for children and young people is, quite rightly, to not ‘sext’. However this research, coupled with our experience, demonstrates that it is still not uncommon. We hope that our new resource will help and support those who have shared self-generated content to take positive action.”

 Key findings:

The time spent on the research was 47 working hours, spread over four weeks.

A total of 12,224 images and videos were analysed and logged.

  • The content was on 68 discrete websites.
  • 7,147 were images
  • 5,077 were videos.
  • 5,001 were both an image and a video.
  • Of the 12,224 images/videos, 10,776 were on parasite websites.
  • Therefore, 88% of content was taken from the original source site.
  • In only 14 instances could analysts not determine whether the site was a parasite website.

Anonymous extracts from young people asking to do something about their online images and videos:

“One explicit image I took when I was young but I cannot be specific to if I was 15 or 16 because it was long ago, and I never posted it to the internet…It is coming up on the first page of also if my name is searched and on images for my name which could jeopardize any future career I have or if any family/friends come across it.”

“I came to regret posting photographs of myself naively on the internet and tried to forget about it, but strangers recognized me from the photographs and made lewd remarks at school. I endured so much bullying because of this photograph and the others…I was eventually admitted for severe depression and was treated for a suicide attempt.”

“…the photos were on a phone that was stolen around 2 years ago…the photos were taken when i [sic] was under 17 years old.”

“I’m an individual who was coerced into posing for this site at the age of 16, and have regretted this ever since…My parents would be horrified…I have suffered badly from depression, and every time I begin to feel good and confident about myself …I just remember these pictures and what I did.”

“Please remove this from the internet as soon as possible as one family member has already come across it… I feel like ending my life as I am so ashamed and embaressed [sic] and this has been put up without my concent.” [sic]

Notes to editors

For more information on the resources provided by Childnet visit http://www.childnet.com/kia/secondary/toolkit-advanced/picture-this.a

and South West Grid for Learning, visit http://www.swgfl.org.uk/sextinghelp from 24 October or contact Childnet on 020 7639 6967 or SWGfL on 0845 601 3203.

This research did not attempt to discover if the person/people in the images had willingly taken part, or were coerced, or knew the images were going to be uploaded to the internet. It aimed to provide a snapshot of statistics about the amount of content that is currently in circulation on the internet.

In the context of this research, a parasite website is defined as a website created for the purpose of displaying sexual content (images and/or videos) which have apparently been taken/harvested from the website to which they were originally uploaded. These original sources are usually legitimate 3rd party services, such as social networking sites or webcam sites.

It is not possible to provide contact details for young people who suffered from self-generated content made available on the internet. However, we can provide audio extracts of actresses reading out some passages which were spoken by young people traumatised by their images being posted online.


For more information please contact:

Internet Watch Foundation:

Kristof Claesen, Press and Public Affairs Manager, IWF, on 01223 203030 or media@iwf.org.uk

Emma Lowther, Director of Communications, IWF, on 01223 203030 or media@iwf.org.uk

About the Internet Watch Foundation

The IWF was established in 1996 by the internet industry to provide the UK internet Hotline to report content within our remit:

  • child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world; 
  • criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK;
  • non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.

For more information please visit www.iwf.org.uk.

The UK Safer Internet Centre is a partnership of three organisations, Childnet International, the South West Grid for Learning and the Internet Watch Foundation. Its main functions are awareness raising, education and the provision of a Helpline and a Hotline.

Read the Research Highlight from the UKCCIS Evidence Group which summarises this research

Check out the UK Safer Internet Centre’s sexting resources for young people and teachers

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