Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation, blogs on how and why to report online child sexual abuse content.
There has been significant debate in the media and parliament recently about how to fight online child sexual abuse images. From what tactics have been used to what more could be done – the issue is incredibly topical. But one question seemed to be missing – how would you feel if you completely accidentally came across child sexual abuse material on the internet?
I can offer a few answers: shocked; appalled; panicked.
We talk a lot about accidentally stumbling across child sexual abuse content on the internet and we’re often asked how such a thing could be possible. Since 2009 we have seen how criminals are using more varied websites to distribute this material, including abusing legitimate websites such as photo hosts and social media sites. This could increase the likelihood of online users stumbling across this material.
We also revealed last month that numbers of public reports to our Hotline are up 40% on the equivalent period a year ago. This increase shows, we believe, an increase in public awareness of how and where to report.
And we need public reports. It is thanks to these reports and the support of our industry Members, including Purple Wifi, that we are able to take action against online child sexual abuse content in the first place. Working in partnership with the internet industry and law enforcement we have significantly sped up removal times of criminal content – in the UK particularly where this is removed typically within one hour.
In fact this year we removed our 100,000th web page containing child sexual abuse.
But it’s not just removal that reporting leads to. Images aren’t simply dots on a screen – behind each is a child being sexually abused and making us aware of these images can help law enforcement rescue these victims. Just last year intelligence gathered from an anonymous report led to the conviction of an offender and the rescue of at least three children from sexual abuse.
So it really is absolutely critical to report.
There is, of course, so much more to be done. At the bigger picture we’re working really hard to speed up removal time worldwide and boost a united global response to these horrendous images. On a much smaller scale we need to create an environment where internet users feel empowered to report their inadvertent exposure and know their reports will make a different.
Ultimately we hope you never stumble across this content but if you do please don’t ignore it – do the right thing and report to iwf.org.uk.