My experience working on the UK Overseas Territories project

Published:  Tue 31 May 2016

Harriet Lester, IWF Technical Projects Officer

There are some jobs where you get to change the world for the better. And there are some jobs where you get to meet people who want to change the world for the better. Well, working on the introduction of IWF’s new International Reporting Portals across the UK Overseas Territories, I got to do both.

Late in 2015, we successfully applied for a grant from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to implement our IWF Reporting Portals in each of the British Overseas Territories. The idea was simple – to provide their internet users with a quick and anonymous way to report online child sexual abuse images and videos.

Basically, the FCO had realised that the new developing internet systems in the territories could eventually become vulnerable to this type of illegal online imagery. So they took the decision to act proactively – and take direct action to protect the citizens, before the problem developed. Genius.

I was lucky enough to be given the job of implementing the portals. So I set about making contact with key people in all the countries. It was a challenge - to find the right people to speak to, people who were fully committed to the project. But with help of the nice people at FCO, I was able to plan my visits to most of the territories and make sure I got to meet the key players in child protection, from government, law enforcement and the internet industry.

My trip would last a month. It would involve travelling on cargo planes, flying through the night on tiny aircraft and leaving my friends and family behind.   But it was also a chance to make history. More importantly, it was a chance to provide the territories with the same level of protection against online child sexual abuse imagery, as a country with a fully developed internet system, like the UK.

For the first time in the territories, IWF were helping them take a multi-agency approach, to make their country a hostile place to host and view child sexual abuse images and videos. It was very exciting.

The first island that I visited was Anguilla.  4,000 miles from home. I was due to present to a room full of very senior people - from government, education, press, law enforcement and the internet industry. The Governor, Christina Scott, met me.

My role was to tell the audience about who the IWF are, what we do and why we do it. I went into detail about the reports our analysts have to assess, how we action illegal images and how important our role is. My words were met with shock. Unless you are an analyst, or someone who deals with child sexual abuse imagery as part of your day to day job, it’s something most people find hard to understand.

After a stunned silence, a round of loud applause followed. Everyone wanted to help. Everyone wanted to offer support from raising awareness in schools, to coverage in the press and internal awareness within their agencies.

In our world, where our role is to eliminate online child sexual abuse imagery, success is difficult to quantify. But getting the full commitment of these amazing people behind the introduction of the new Reporting Portal, felt very much like success.

And I was right. I continued onto the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Island, Bermuda and Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Every meeting I held followed the same pattern. People were shocked, but their initial horror for the subject, quickly turned into a passionate desire to help – to make the reporting Portal happen.

Of course, it took a huge amount of work and effort after those initial meetings to bring the project to fruition. But that initial passion for doing right thing, drove the project through.

I can honestly say, that the launch of the British Territories Reporting Portals, has been a real team effort. In each and every country that signed up, government, safeguarding agencies, NGO’s and the internet industry went the extra mile to make it happen.

Online child sexual abuse is a global problem. It demands a truly global solution. And we believe that it’s vital to share the expertise of our analysts, with countries who may not have have the resource to set up a dedicated hotline of their own, to tackle the problem.

I met some amazing people in the territories. What we have achieved in just a few short months is incredible. We have made history.

For the islands, this is their chance to show the world that they can take a stand against online child sexual abuse imagery. Together with the IWF, we are stronger and our joint ‘no tolerance’ approach is something to be proud of.

For us, the more countries that come together to fight this hideous problem, the closer we get to our ultimate goal – to eliminate online child sexual abuse for good.

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