Record number of images showing children being abused removed by UK internet charity
21 Jan 2019 03:52 PM
More than 100,000 web pages showing the sexual abuse and sexual torture of children have been removed from the internet thanks to the work of the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in 2018 – up by one third on the year before.
Announcing its latest figures, which break previous totals, their Chief Executive Susie Hargreaves OBE described it as “shocking and deeply upsetting” that these images should have been created in the first place.
In 2018, 4 out of 10 of the web pages the IWF actioned for removal displayed the sexual abuse of children aged 10 years old and younger, with infants and babies featuring more than 1,300 times.
Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP said:
“The horrifying amount of online child sexual abuse material removed by the IWF shows the true scale of the vile threat we are facing. This is why I have made tackling it one of my personal missions.
“I welcome this impressive work and have been encouraged by the progress being made by the tech companies in the fight against online predators. But l want the web giants to do more to make their platforms safe.”
Ms Hargreaves said:
“These 105,047 web pages each contained up to thousands of images and videos showing the sexual abuse of children. It amounted to millions of horrific images. Virtually all (more than 99%) were hosted outside of the UK. Whilst we use sophisticated and cutting-edge technology in our work**, ultimately, every webpage was assessed by human eyes.
“Watching the repeated abuse of children, some of whom are very young, is a difficult job but we have an amazing team of compassionate, resilient and highly trained Internet Content Analysts. They work to give hope to the victims of sexual abuse whose images are shared online repeatedly.
“We work with more than 140 internet companies to keep their networks safe but it’s a sad fact that the vast majority of these web pages (4 out of 5) were hosted by image hosting companies* based overseas, who do not want to engage, and frankly have little regard to providing safe networks, or relieving the suffering of child victims.”
About the one-third increase in criminal webpages identified, Ms Hargreaves added:
“With just 13 analysts we can do a tremendous amount of work. In fact, we processed 230,000 reports in total. But it’s the development of new technology, such as our intelligent crawler and our bespoke report management system, which has enabled us to process criminal images a lot quicker, and also identify more for removal. Nevertheless, a real person has seen and verified each of the web pages.
“It is shocking and deeply upsetting that these images should have been created in the first place. We have set ourselves an ambitious programme of work for 2019. By getting better at finding, and combatting this material, we offer real hope to the victims whose images are shared online.”
The full 2018 IWF statistics and trends analysis will feature in the 2018 Annual Report, to be published April 2019.
Notes to editors:
Emma Hardy, Director of External Relations +44 (0) 7929 553679 or Jane Spence, Press Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0) 1223 203030 or +44 (0) 7377 727058
IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE may be available for interview live on Wednesday. Emma Hardy will be available for recording on Tuesday. Dep CEO Fred Langford could potentially to pre-record from Millbank or College Green between 13.00pm and 15.00pm tomorrow Tuesday
Two IWF analysts are available for a pre-recorded, anonymous interview.
Public service footer:
Worried about an online sexual image or video of someone you think is under 18? Visit www.iwf.org.uk to make an anonymous report, and the IWF will do the rest.
105,047 URLs were assessed by IWF Analysts as containing child sexual abuse material during 2018.
Breakdown of the 105,047 URLs by country (top 5)
- Netherlands – 49%
- United States – 13%
- Russia – 12%
- Slovak Republic – 11%
- France – 7%
*Image hosting companies were responsible for hosting 82% of all the child sexual abuse web pages IWF analysts identified in 2018. An image hosting service lets users upload images which are then available through a unique URL. This URL can be used to make online links, or be embedded in other websites, forums and social networking sites.
- In 4 out of 5 occasions when we saw child sexual abuse imagery on web pages, the victims were girls.
- Just under a fifth showed boys and in a very small amount of imagery, we saw children of both genders.
Less than 1% of child sexual abuse imagery is hosted in the UK.
** We use sophisticated and cutting-edge technology in our work.
Our Intelligent Crawler
Whilst we have the capability to crawl millions of web pages a day searching for child sexual abuse imagery, we are proud to use our intelligent crawler to be most effective for our analysts, sister hotlines, and law enforcement partners around the world. Ultimately, human eyes verify each webpage showing such criminal content before we work with the relevant country and internet company to get it removed. We have an ambitious programme or work for 2019 around preventing the images from being uploaded in the first place.
Report Management System v4
We’ve developed and launched a fourth iteration of our report management system which is a bespoke system used by our highly trained analysts to assess child sexual abuse imagery. This has contributed to a 50% saving of time needed to perform assessments. This has undoubtedly contributed to our 13 analysts identifying more than 100,000 web pages showing child sexual abuse imagery in 2018.
The IWF Hash List
We turn child sexual abuse images into unique codes (hashes). There are more than 320,000 unique hashes of illegal images on our list which we make available to the internet industry. It means they can remove matching images already on their services, and even prevent them from being uploaded.
Catherine, an IWF Internet Content Analyst:
“I’ve worked for IWF for 10 years now and during that time I’ve had two children of my own. Having a family has affected the way I feel about my work but in a positive way. I want every second to count and doing a meaningful job is incredibly satisfying.
“Like most of the analysts, finding images of babies being abused is one of the hardest things. As a human being, you are always going to be sensitive to this. Some of the hideous things offenders are capable of inflicting on innocent children are unbelievable. But we’re highly trained to deal with this and it makes me even more motivated to search for any associated imagery and get it removed from the web.
“For us, the Holy Grail of an analyst’s work is finding an image, or information that could lead to the rescue of a child. Recently, I identified a video that had been captured via a webcam. It appeared new and suddenly I felt like a clock was ticking – could I find any clues or evidence that could lead police to this child? I immediately called in our Manager and the information we identified was passed on and flagged to CEOP, the specialist online UK police agency.
“We’ve seen a huge rise in child abuse imagery captured by webcams this year. On commercial sites, where an offender could be making a profit from the material, the ages of the children appear to be getting younger. This certainly makes you more aware of online safety and that’s a message I’m happy to share.
“Of course, I could go home at the end of the day and think that the world is a dreadful place. But for me, like most of our analysts, I just want to help the children in these terrible images. I have real empathy for them and that’s why I love my job.”
Paul, an IWF Internet Content Analyst:
“Most people would think we’d go home depressed every night. Yes, we do see some pretty horrific things during our working day. Child abuse is an incredibly cruel crime. The images we see are of real children and babies. We never forget that.
“But this work isn’t depressing, in fact, it’s the opposite. Very early on in my IWF career, I was involved in identifying and analysing a series of child sexual abuse images that led directly to the rescue of a child. Wow, I suddenly understood the power an analyst can have. I felt like I’d been able to reach into the screen and help that child.
“This year, I’ve had reports from the victims themselves. They can be desperate by the time they contact us. They may have been coaxed or groomed into doing something that they didn’t want to do and then it’s on the internet. Of course, we can only work within the legal framework, but I see personal reports as a real challenge and I’m always determined to do whatever I can to help these young people. The very fact that I can have an impact, that I can help, is amazing.
“As a parent, I’ve realised that I’m more conscious now of what my children are doing online, or, more importantly, who they are talking to. Today most children are tech savvy, but they may not be tech safe. On the web, offenders can disguise themselves as friends and build trust. The challenge is staying one step ahead of these people. And that’s the reason I tell friends and family about the job I do so that I can help spread the online safety message.
“Each year the number of images we assess goes up. We are getting better at what we do and we’ve got the best new tech to hand, like our crawlers. They act like a ‘trusty side-kick’. But I think there will always be a need for ‘human’ analysts because this work is so complex. Child sexual abuse imagery isn’t always black and white. Our team will always need to be there to identify the shades of grey, that could and sometimes does, lead to the rescue of a child.”
What we do:
We make the internet a safer place. We help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse. We search for child sexual abuse images and videos and offer a place for the public to report them anonymously. We then have them removed. We’re a not for profit organisation and are supported by the global internet industry and the European Commission.
For more information please visit www.iwf.org.uk.
The IWF is part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, working with Childnet International and the South West Grid for Learning to promote the safe and responsible use of technology.
The IWF works globally to stop child sexual abuse imagery on the internet. If you ever stumble across a sexual image or video of someone you think is under 18, please report to the IWF. Reporting can be done anonymously and confidentially – we don’t need your details, just your help.