Engage: What can social workers do if they find evidence of child sexual abuse imagery online

We’d like to introduce ourselves to the readers of Care Appointments. We’re the IWF (Internet Watch Foundation) and we’re the organisation removing child sexual abuse imagery from the internet. It’s a tough job, but a vital one, not only for the victims of this hideous abuse who we work to protect from the torment of having the images of their abuse shared again and again, but also for internet users who can surf the internet knowing it’s a safer place.

We wanted to reach out to those in the social care industry and make your readers aware of our work, so that they know what we do, how we work, and where they can report suspected child sexual abuse images and videos found on the internet.

What does the IWF do?

At the IWF, we go the extra mile to track down images and videos of child sexual abuse online. We assess the imagery, then if it’s illegal, we have it taken down.

From our office in Cambridge, our 13 analysts are world leaders in proactively searching for child sexual abuse content from across the globe and to removing it from the internet. We are one of the world’s leading charities and hotlines in identifying and removing this illegal imagery, and receive tens of thousands of reports from internet users every year, who are often distressed after stumbling across images and videos of children being sexually abused.

In April, we revealed a 37% increase from 2016 to 2017 in the number of child sexual abuse URLs from 57,335 in 2016 to 78,589 last year, in our 2017 Annual Report. We also revealed that offenders are getting cleverer at evading detection, while the images of the abuse are increasing in severity. The report makes for shocking reading, but it is essential that the scale of child sexual abuse imagery is known by all. You can read more on our 2017 Annual Report here.

On Tuesday 15 May, we also published our new webcam research, titled Trends in Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Examining the Distribution of Captures of Live-streamed Child Sexual Abuse.Using a sample of more than 2,000 incidents, the author analysed the spread of permanent captures and recordings of live-streamed child sexual abuse content.Shockingly, 98% of the victims were 13 or younger, and 96% of the victims were in their own home environment, such as their bedroom or bathroom. You can read about it here.

Our work not only stops the revictimsation of children whose suffering is shared again and again online, but also helps to identify new victims who we may be able to help rescue. We work with law enforcement agencies, governments, the internet industry and other charities and hotlines across the world to track down these children so they can be rescued, while their images are removed.

The IWF was founded as a result of the internet industry facing threat of prosecution from law enforcement if it did not deal with child sexual abuse content when they became aware of it on their platforms. For the past 22 years the IWF has been working in a triangle of trust between the internet industry and law enforcement to take action against this illegal content based on the model of self-regulation. Our self-regulatory model works as evidenced by reducing the amount of this content illegally hosted in the UK from 18% in 1996 to less than 1% since 2003.

Our Analysts

One of our Analysts and can better explain why the work we do is so vital.

“A public report came in for a website showing a lot of child sexual abuse imagery. There were many, many images and videos on that site. They were of children showing themselves in sexual positions or performing sexual acts on webcams. One set of images showed a girl and by her appearance, her clothes, the décor in her room and things in the background, I could tell that she was in the UK. I called a few other analysts over to help me assess the images and after investigating a bit more with a few online searches, we managed to come up with a potential location for her.

“We sent the report to CEOP, the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and they then contacted the local police. In less than two days we got the message that the girl had been safeguarded by the police. She was 12-years-old and had been groomed for years. I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute joy that we had helped this girl. That’s probably the highlight of what I’ve done at the IWF so far.”

IWF also help the internet industry join the fight against online child sexual abuse imagery, by providing a raft of world-class specialist services to our Members, which include internet service providers, phone companies and social media companies.

We’ve also launched 20 international reporting websites, known as Reporting Portals, in countries across the world. Online child sexual abuse imagery is a global problem, which demands a global solution. The internet doesn’t respect geographical borders, which is why we work together with partners across the globe, so one day we can live in a world without child sexual abuse imagery.

A case study

Marie, not her real name, is a young girl featured in our latest live-streaming report.

Marie is about nine-years-old. Like many children, she appears to be using a chatroom to make friends with other youngsters her own age. When we see Marie, she’s alone and in her bedroom. Like any normal 9-year-old there are teddies and sparkly shoes and clothes strewn across the room. The door is closed and Marie is using her tablet. She thinks that she’s talking to another young girl. She thinks that she’s talking to a friend. But she’s not.

From the video feed we see in the corner of the shot, Marie is being fed a previously recorded ‘as live’ film. By the clever use of technology, her abuser is showing Marie a film. But she thinks it’s happening in real time. She thinks it’s her friend.

The ‘film’ Marie is viewing shows the other child gradually becoming more and more self-abusive. Marie is being led to follow the actions of the young girl she’s seeing on the screen. As this is a ‘live’ conversation she appears to think that she’s simply copying the actions of another girl, her friend. She may also believe that no one will ever see what’s happening, that it’s private, it’s their secret. It appears that Marie thinks that she’s playing a childish game, the ‘I’ll show you mine’ scenario that youngsters can be drawn into by friends.

But there was no young girl at the other end of Marie’s webcam feed. She was being groomed by a sophisticated child sex offender, who through manipulation and technical ‘trickery’ had persuaded a young girl to perform sexual acts. The abuser used Marie’s innocence to make her believe she was seeing and talking to an actual child. Sadly, Marie was not the only child in the research to be ‘groomed’ to this level.

You can read more case studies on our website here.

What can you do?

If you stumble across child sexual abuse imagery online, or come across it in your line of work, you can make a report simply and easily at: iwf.org.uk

The report can be made completely anonymously, or if you’d like to receive feedback or an update on your report you can enter your contact details. Every report made could save a child from continued abuse or stop the revictimisation of that child every time their image is shared and seen. Please spread the word about the work of the IWF to your colleagues, friends and family, to protect children all around the world.

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