From RAF to IWF: The story of an analyst

Published:  Mon 23 Apr 2018

I’ve been working as an IWF analyst for almost three years now. I used to be in the military. I worked as an Imagery-Intelligence Analyst which means I analysed images taken by drones and satellites. The images I’d view were extremely sensitive – casualties, wounds, bomb craters, really every kind of image that’s taken for intelligence purposes by the military. After 23 years of doing that, I came home and didn’t really know what to do next. The RAF was such a big part of my life that I wasn’t sure what I was going to replace it with. I didn’t know what was out there for me, but I wanted to find a job that would give me another worthwhile career.

When my wife saw the advert online, my immediate thought was ‘I could do that’. As a military Intelligence Analyst, I was used to seeing difficult and upsetting imagery, so I believed I’d be ready for what I would see.

I was wrong. No amount of military training could prepare me for what I was about to see on the screen. In all my years before joining the IWF, I’d never seen anything like this. Even if you think you’re prepared to view these images and videos, you genuinely aren’t.

Some things will stick with you. I vividly remember the first time I was able to save a child from further abuse. When a link comes in, then it's my job to first identify if the person is aged under 18. In this instance, I was quickly able to assess that the girl in the image was underage. I hadn’t seen the video before so I asked some of the other analysts over to see if they’d seen it, whether it was new or something we’d already actioned. Nobody else had seen this particular video so it meant this could be a potential UK victim.

We sent it through to the Child Exploitation Online Protection Command (CEOP) and the police and gave them as much information as we could. Within two days they called me and said they’d found the girl. She'd been saved. It felt like we had reached into the screen and pulled her out of the abusive environment she was in.

She was 12 years old and had been groomed for years. I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute joy. That’s probably the highlight of what I’ve done at the IWF so far. That case really shows how important our work is.

Young children are exposed to the internet from an early age these days and making it a safer environment for the two children I have at home is a driving factor in everything I do. Some people might think it would be difficult to face the family after a day in the Hotline but it isn’t. We look at horrible stuff and it’s sad to see what people can do to others, especially to children. But thankfully, I can leave the office, look my kids in the eye and truly say that I’ve done something good. When I go home and see our kids playing online, I just think that I’m helping create a better future for them. I’m getting rid of these images so that they, or anyone else, won’t see these horrific things online.

We recreated this story in a short film in partnership with LADbible. You can watch it here: https://features.ladbible.com/how-one-click-can-save-a-sex-abuse-victim

*Peter's name has been changed to protect his anonymity.

IWF’s Dan Sexton explains vital role new European proposal could have in preventing the widespread sexual abuse, rape, and sexual torture of child victims online

IWF’s Dan Sexton explains vital role new European proposal could have in preventing the widespread sexual abuse, rape, and sexual torture of child victims online

Dan explains the vital role the proposal could have in preventing the widespread sexual abuse, rape, and sexual torture of child victims online

1 June 2022 Blog
IWF calls for changes to Bill to ensure it does not disrupt current mechanisms for stopping child sexual abuse on the internet

IWF calls for changes to Bill to ensure it does not disrupt current mechanisms for stopping child sexual abuse on the internet

Today (May 24), the Online Safety Bill begins its next stage as MPs begin the line-by-line scrutiny of the legislation.

24 May 2022 Blog
Not all Encryption is the same: social media is not ready for End-to-End Encryption

Not all Encryption is the same: social media is not ready for End-to-End Encryption

IWF CTO Dan Sexton explains the differences in the technology behind the debate.

14 March 2022 Blog