‘It’s a window into the child’s abuse. Thank goodness there is a stop button for us.’ A day in the life of an IWF analyst

Published:  Thu 28 Oct 2021

Cambridgeshire mum Lillian* has one of the most unusual and, sometimes, harrowing jobs in the world. 

She is an internet content analyst at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in Cambridge and, every day, she sifts through hundreds of images, and hours of footage of child sexual abuse.

She works to find this material and have it removed from the internet for good. She, and the other analysts in the hotline, make a real difference to the lives of victims. Through their work, child victims of sexual abuse have even been identified and rescued from abusive situations.

2020 was a record-breaking year for the IWF, with staff dealing with a record number of reports.

Speaking about her work, Lillian said the task can be immensely challenging, but is ultimately very rewarding.

She said: “The days that really stand out are when I get to help a victim directly and knowingly. It is a very rewarding part of the job. To be able to take action on their images to get them removed and to be able to provide victims with reassurance and support, it gives me a real buzz, it’s what makes the job worthwhile.”

"It really is a window into the child’s abuse, thank goodness there is a stop button for us.”

Lillian has been working as an analyst at the IWF for 12 years, but some of the things she sees still shock her.

“Becoming desensitised is necessary to do this job,” she said. “But there is a lot of upsetting content out there and I still experience shock from time to time. Having an off day is the most likely time that something will upset me as my resilience is lower than normal.

“It might be the sexually aggressive language that predators use when talking about the sexual acts that they wish to or have inflicted upon children. It might be images of a victim that I have never seen before, or images that remind me of my children or other loved ones and nothing can prepare you for viewing images and videos of babies being raped.

“Videos have always been hard to watch, it really is a window into the child’s abuse, thank goodness there is a stop button for us.”

All analysts at the IWF are selected for their mental resilience, and staff participate in mandatory counselling sessions to ensure they are dealing with the strains of the job. As well as this, a supportive work place and colleagues help analysts like Lillian to stay strong. Lillian herself turns to Jigsaw puzzles when things get too much.

Lillian said: “When something does upset me, I’ve found the best way to overcome it is to act on it right away. Find a distraction, strike up a chat with somebody about anything, find that person in the office that can always put a smile on my face, work on a jigsaw puzzle.

“A jigsaw craze in the hotline has emerged since the pandemic. It’s wonderful to see people getting stuck in and enjoy doing a puzzle. It has proved to be an amazing coping mechanism for doing the job. May there always be a jigsaw on the office kitchen table!”

"When the news hit that the country must go into lockdown, our hotline changed overnight."

The IWF kept working throughout the pandemic and the national lockdowns which hit the UK as a result. Analysts were designated key workers, and it was decided children’s safety should be prioritised. Serious measures had to be brought in to ensure analysts like Lillian could keep coming to work in safety, and deal with the evolving threats which children faced online during the pandemic.

Lillian said: “Covid has taken its toll on the world. Even though the IWF stayed open and has been working throughout the pandemic there has been much change in the office.

“When the news hit that the country must go into lockdown, our hotline changed overnight. We were separated into two teams working in separate rooms in the building. We had to socially distance from each other. It was tough not having a desk buddy to chat to or being able to share things with. I missed the camaraderie immensely and the team spirit we had when we were all together. There was so much uncertainty and worry.

“The kindness of my colleagues has helped me through it. Jasmine* brings in plants and flowers every week which breathes life into the office. Everybody brings in lots of goodies to eat. There have been online quizzes and of course office banter – Lemar* loves a good rant and ensuring that everyone brings in cakes on their birthday. As serious as this job is, I don’t think you could do it if you didn’t retain your sense of humour. Laughter is truly the best medicine.”

Everyone at the IWF works hard to make sure children can be safeguarded, and can live in safety, knowing images and videos of their abuse are not being allowed to spread online. These images and videos can prevent victims from ever recovering from their abuse, as they know that somewhere, someone may be sharing and viewing them.

Lillian added: “We go about our day performing these routine tasks. Although we rarely know it the ripple effect of our actions must be boundless.”

Lillian's story was recently featured in the Cambridge News

*Names changed to protect analysts’ identities.

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