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Record amounts of child abuse images detected online in 2018

Internet Watch Foundation highlights horrific ordeal of Olivia in annual report.

Published on 26th April 2019

Record numbers of child sexual abuse imagery was found by the Internet Watch Foundation last year, a report by the organisation has revealed.

The IWF detected 105,047 internet urls of child abuse last year as a result of improving its technology to speed up the detection and assessment of criminal images of children.

“For 23 years we have been removing from the internet images and videos showing the sexual abuse of children,” said Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO.

“Despite us removing more and more images than ever before, and despite creating and using some of the world’s leading technology, it’s clear that this problem is far from being solved," she added.

The IWF's annual report 'Once Upon a Year' includes the experiences of Olivia, a child who was repeatedly raped and sexually tortured from the age of three until she was rescued from her abuser when she was eight years old. Despite being rescued in 2013, IWF analysts see her images daily, which are still being shared online.

The annual report highlights:

- The amount of child sexual abuse imagery hosted in the UK is at its lowest level ever recorded in 2018 – 41 URLs or 0.04% of the global total. In 1996, 18% was hosted in the UK.

- Every five minutes IWF analysts find the image or video of a child like Olivia being sexually abused, and 4 out of 5 times this is hosted in a European country.

- Almost half (47%) of all the imagery found last year was discovered in the Netherlands.

Indeed, IWF has offered support to the Dutch organisation dealing with child sexual abuse imagery.

Ms Hargreaves added: "The cause of the problem is the demand. Unfortunately, and as the police tell us often, there are 100,000 people sitting in the UK right now demanding images of the abuse of children like Olivia. This is a global challenge and no doubt every country’s police force will have their own estimations of this criminality.

“With this continued demand for images of child rape, it’s a constant battle.

“That’s why we’re calling for all the partners to get together to run a long term, well-funded prevention campaign. Without this, the battle just can’t be won.

“We’ve released ‘Once upon a Year’ to help explain the experiences of Olivia and the many other children out there just like her who suffer repeated rape. Throughout this year we will release more stories of children we see every day," she said.

The annual report is released after the government published its plans to make the internet a safer place in its Online Harms White Paper.
Under the proposals, social media firms will have to abide by a mandatory 'duty of care' to its users and take reasonable steps to keep their users safe and tackle illegal and harmful activity on their services. A new independent regulator will be introduced to ensure companies meet their responsibilities. The regulator will have effective enforcement tools, and the government is consulting on powers to issue substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially to impose liability on individual members of senior management.

Ms Hargreaves continued: “We see the Online Harms White Paper as a huge opportunity for us all to step up and have a greater impact for people who use the internet and for child victims of sexual abuse.

“Whilst pursuing a prevent agenda, we owe it to children like Olivia to keep doing what we currently do well, because they need to know that someone is here removing their images and videos. Prevention and removal should be tackled together," she added.

Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “Olivia’s story is a heartbreaking example of the horrific ordeal that victims of child sexual abuse can go through. Tackling this sickening crime is a top priority of the government.

“The IWF do incredible work in removing this content from the web, but we need to stop this material from appearing in the first place. The Online Harms White Paper, launched this month, will ensure that tech companies have a legal responsibility to remove this vile material from their platforms with severe sanctions for those that do not.”

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, said: “While good work is underway to remove online child abuse content, these shocking figures show the continuing insatiable demand for these deeply disturbing and illegal images.

“Every image shows a young victim in need of identification and support to recover from this horrific and illegal form of child abuse.

“The proposals in the Online Harms White Paper for an independent regulator to ensure internet companies adopt a mandatory duty of care are a step in the right direction, but they will take time to implement and children need protection now.

“Government needs to ensure there is support for abused children and that professionals have sufficient training and resources to bring to justice people who upload and share child abuse images," he concluded.

Once Upon a Year

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