20 years of IWF

Published:  Fri 21 Oct 2016

More than a quarter of a million webpages showing children being sexually abused are identified and removed in 20-year history.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) assessed nearly 700,000 reports in 20 years, with more than 250,000 confirmed as showing the rape, sexual torture and sexual abuse of children. The IWF today (21 October, 2016), marks its 20th Anniversary.

  • At 11.21am on 21 October, 1996 the very first report was made to the newly-formed IWF. It came in by telephone, to a small room in a Victorian town house in Oakington, a village just outside Cambridge.
  • 20 years later:
    • 699,403 reports have been assessed by the IWF’s analysts, with,
    • 281,781* of those showing the sexual abuse of children. One report might show one, or thousands of images or videos of sexual abuse (October 1996 to September 30, 2016).

An infographic has been created charting the history of the charity, along with a film featuring leaders from top internet giants, and IWF Members: BT, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, and the parents of April Jones. April was just five-years-old when she was murdered by a man, within three hours of him looking at child sexual abuse imagery online.

IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves says: “What’s truly shocking is not always the numbers of reports to our hotline, but what is shown in those images and videos. Each and every one of those quarter of a million reports is the record of the sexual abuse of a child. These are real children. The majority are under 10-years-old. Some are younger than two.

“We are very proud of our work and legacy. Many have said that our story charts the history of the internet. So we’ve used our data in an infographic designed to mark both IWF and internet milestones. We also feel that this is a very human story. The victims must not be air-brushed from the picture. So we’ve also produced a film with the parents of April Jones and the giants of the internet industry, to allow them to share their views.”

Watch our 20th anniversary film here.

A selection of milestones:

  • 11.21am on 21 October, 1996: The very first report was made to the newly formed IWF.
  • 1996: 18% of the world’s known child sexual abuse imagery was hosted in the UK.
  • 1996: 0.08 billion web users globally.
  • 1998: Google was founded.
  • 2004: Facebook was launched. IWF launched the URL list; a URL can contain one or 1000 images or videos.
  • 2005: One billion web users globally.
  • 2006: The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, a specialist police body, was founded.
  • 2007: Apple launch the iPhone.
  • 2010: WhatsApp and Instagram were launched.
  • 2012: Jimmy Savile revelations.
  • 2012: April Jones, five, and Tia Sharp, 12, were murdered. It emerged that their murderers had been viewing images and videos of child sexual abuse. There was a public outcry.
  • 2013: Google pledged £1 million to the work of IWF to recruit five new analysts.
  • 2014: The first global WeProtect summit was held in the UK. The Prime Minister David Cameron gave the IWF the right to actively search for images of child sexual abuse.
  • 2014: IWF launched its first overseas reporting portal in Mauritius.
  • 2015: One billion people used Facebook in a single day.
  • 2016: 3.4 billion web users.
  • 2016: IWF revealed it identified in one year 68,092 webpages of child sexual abuse imagery. That’s an increase of 417% over two years.
  • 2016: 0.2% of the world’s known child sexual abuse imagery is hosted in the UK.

Explore our interactive timeline here.


BT CEO Gavin Patterson says: ““The internet opened up a world of possibilities. However, without industry wide governance, everything that was good about the internet risked being offset and the internet exploited for all the wrong reasons. 

That’s why BT was one of the first IWF members and we continue to be closely involved in their work today.  We share the IWF’s determination to eradicate online child sexual abuse imagery and we thank them for work they’ve done over the last twenty years and for the critical work they will do in the future. ”

IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE says: “The UK leads the world at removing this illegal imagery of children. Today, only 0.2% of the world’s known child sexual abuse imagery is hosted in the UK. When the IWF was founded nearly 20 years ago, that figure was 18%. We feel that’s a testament to the work of our analysts.

“In addition to the quarter of a million sexual abuse webpages to date, we currently have 125,583 “digital fingerprints”, known as hashes, of child sexual abuse images on our Image Hash List. This new technology we’re launching today is likely to prove a real game changer in the future.”


Please see our Image Hash List release for more information.




Contact: Lisa Stacey, Communications Team 44 (0) 1223 203030 or +44 (0) 7929 553679.

Notes to editors:

  1. Interviews are available. Contact the communications team: 44 (0) 1223 203030
  2. Written case histories are available.
  3. For all information and links can be accessed at: www.iwf.org.uk

* 281,781* reports were positively identified as containing illegal child sexual abuse imagery. Data collected between October 1996 and September 30, 2016.


What we do:

We make the internet a safer place. We help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse. We search for child sexual abuse images and videos and offer a place for the public to report them anonymously. We then have them removed. We’re a not for profit organisation and are supported by the global internet industry and the European Commission.

For more information, please visit www.iwf.org.uk


The IWF is part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, working with Childnet International and the South West Grid for Learning to promote the safe and responsible use of technology.


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