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Mental Health Awareness Week – Doing one of the most difficult jobs

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) analysts, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, see more distressing images in a day than most see in their lifetime. Day in, day out, they see many children whose peace of mind is ruined by an internet which should be a place of joyful exploration, freedom, and discovery. It takes a very special person to be able to view these images without losing their compassion and concern. It also takes a much larger team to look after these professionals.  

IWF gold-standard welfare system is in place to help them do this crucial task, even more so within the current, extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 13 analysts assessed more than 20,000 reports each in 2019. They’re highly trained to identify criminal imagery, but unfortunately, they’re also often exposed to all sorts of hideous content they often don’t expect to see. There are images that can unexpectedly impact them more than others.

Amongst other measures to protect their wellbeing, all new analysts go through a specially developed induction training programme to help them mentally process and cope with exposure to disturbing images. This was recently described in an independent audit as “outstanding”.

IWF analysts’ working hours are strictly monitored; they take regular timetabled breaks and are encouraged to take more breaks as and when they need. All the staff work shorter days to ensure their personal lives don’t suffer, and they don’t allow overtime.

Each month they have individual mandatory counselling sessions and all employees who see criminal imagery have a full psychological assessment every year. In fact, everyone who works for IWF is offered counselling support. Due to Coronavirus and the extra burden this might be putting on their mental wellbeing, all analysts are being offered additional access to counselling sessions to go through any aspect that might be worrying them.

IWF also support them by creating technology-for-good. They’re working on new classifiers that will help them identify the reports most likely to show new child sexual abuse material, versus duplicate images which they’ve seen and assessed before. The classifiers will empower their analysts to have an even greater impact: their time and skills will be more focused on reviewing new child sexual abuse imagery. Their wellbeing will also be better safeguarded by not having to see the same abuse imagery on multiple occasions. The children depicted in the duplicate images as well will have greater privacy.

“Doing this job has made me realise just how big the problem of online child sexual abuse is. It’s a human issue, spread by technology like never before, and we have a lot of work to do. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time listening to survivors of childhood sexual abuse and hearing how that experience has stood in the way of their life so many times. Coming to work at the IWF meant I could make a practical difference. When people know that the images of their childhood suffering can – and will – be stopped from re-emerging, they can feel safer and stronger. It feels good to know that we’re helping to make the internet a safer place.” Rosa is one of IWF world-class analysts.

For Rosa, as for all other 12 analysts in the Hotline, nothing makes them feel better than hearing from our law enforcement partners that intelligence they provided has led to a child, becoming safe. Because of those moments, they tirelessly work to put an end to this global crime

Their task is to make the internet safer for everyone and to stop the revictimisation of child victims of sexual abuse. The task of the wider team at the IWF is to help them do that in the best possible way.

Mental Health Awareness Week reminds us of the importance of caring for our own psychological wellbeing, and that of the people we have around. Counselling can be a fantastic help to people in all walks of life and is certainly necessary to support the incredible work IWF real-life superheroes in the Hotline do. IWF want them to be able to leave their work at the door; they don’t want them compartmentalising things or feeling they have to share distress about work at home. The counselling sessions help them enjoy the good mental health they need to continue their fight to help those children who cannot help themselves.

Hear more about the work of IWF analysts in a behind-the-scenes podcast called Pixels From a Crime Scene launched spring 2020. Pixels from a Crime Scene is available to download at www.iwf.org.uk/pixels-from-a-crime-scene or on your podcast player of choice including:

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | iHeart Radio

The IWF is a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, working with Childnet International and the SWGfL to promote the safe and responsible use of technology for children and young people.

For more information about the important work the IWF do eliminating child sexual abuse imagery online, please visit www.iwf.org.uk.