How You Can Help To Halt Online Child Abuse

As many as one in twenty people sees child sexual abuse images while surfing the internet, with more than a third of all sites showing the most extreme images, according to a report published today.

Three in ten of the victims appear to be aged under 6 – with 5 per cent apparently younger than 2, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which shuts down illegal internet content. More than three quarters of the children are girls.

Up to 35 per cent of all sexual abuse sites known to the IWF show the most severe forms of abuse such as child rape and sexual assault involving sadism and bestiality.

Although Britain has been very successful in ensuring that less than 1 per cent of the material originates here – a figure that has fallen from 18 per cent in 1997 – the images are still accessible from the UK, underlining the significance of today’s first IWF Awareness Day.

Dozens of online brands, including Virgin, Sky, BT, BBC and News International, the parent company of The Times, are publicising details of the charity’s reporting system today so that all internet users know what to do if they stumble across online images of children being sexually abused.

Peter Robbins, chief executive of the IWF, said: “Our analysts witness the results of terrible sexual abuse being inflicted on very young children around the world and then circulated online. With the help of the online industry the 28 hotlines we work with around the world and our law enforcement colleagues the public can help us to remove these websites and end the abuse that is perpetuated every time the images are viewed.”

This year the IWF has passed details of 2,092 child sexual abuse websites – of which 80 per cent are commercial operations – to international hotlines and, via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and Interpol, to law enforcement agents around the world for investigation and removal. Many of the commercial child sexual abuse websites claim to offer thousands of abusive images and videos for sale.

The IWF has found that both Russia and America have the most sites available. The sites in Russia are run by organised criminals, which make them difficult to police, and those countries do not have a central reporting system. America has the best record for shutting child sexual abuse sites down.

Sarah Robertson, spokeswoman for the IWF, said that the organisation did not want people to turn into vigilantes and open themselves up to possible prosecution for accessing child pornography.

Ms Robertson said: “It is an offence to seek out and download child pornography on the internet but our very existence relies upon people reporting to us when they are accidentally exposed to this sort of content. There are a lot of ways in which this can happen such as spam e-mails which give the receiver no warning of the material or on mainstream pornography sites, for instance.”

On those rare occasions when child pornography is found on British networks, the images are removed withinhours. But the advances in technology and the nature of the internet mean that these images can still be accessed from around the world.

IWF members and stakeholders will be supporting the awareness day by running adverts and by e-mailing their contacts.

To report online child pornography: