Child sexual abuse charity CEO: it’s time to review, refocus and make a change

Published:  Thu 11 Jul 2013

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) CEO Susie Hargreaves has outlined the IWF and industry response to calls to step up the fight against online child sexual abuse images and videos.

She spoke at the Child Internet Safety Summit at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London today (11 July) alongside other child protection professionals, online experts and MPs.

In a bold and honest assessment of the IWF’s 17 years – from founder Peter Dawe to the recent summit with Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller (on June 18) - she asked “is the industry responsible and is it doing enough?”

“The answer has to be yes and no,” said Ms Hargreaves.

The IWF is currently working with its 107 industry members to examine its funding and what more it can do. Maria Miller has asked for the results of this review in mid-September.

Outlining recent history, Ms Hargreaves explained how the media, government and public spotlight turned to how the online industry funded and supported the IWF.

She said: “We were besieged with questions from media, government and the public including: Is the industry responsible? Does the industry give us enough money to really tackle the problem? Is the amount that individual company gives us commensurate with the size of their operation, their profits, their obligations and stated commitment to tackle the problem? Bottom line is industry doing enough?”

Ms Hargreaves said: “First of all eliminating the problem isn’t just about removal of content – it’s about changing people’s behaviour and attitudes and that means funding education and awareness raising campaigns. It’s about everyone in the UK having a zero tolerance approach and about ensuring people don’t go there in the first place and all of us have to play our part here.”

Ms Hargreaves also stated that the IWF is one of the best funded Hotlines in the world and that it only exists because of the internet industry and it is effective because of the excellent relationships it has with industry members.

“What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single member of the IWF that wants to be associated with child sexual abuse content – it’s not only the lowest of the low but also bad for business,” she explained.

“Whilst the majority of our members have committed to the membership funding review, there are still some who don’t accept that we need to change. Some make a very rational argument that the UK already boasts the most committed industry in the world, that the IWF is one of best funded hotlines in the world and that the IWF was set up to remove content hosted in the UK and this has all but been achieved.

“But we can’t get away from the fact that the circumstances that we are operating in today are totally different from five, 10, 15 years ago. Even with the success of the IWF the Hazells and Bridgers can still access this content. Public opinion has changed and the public is calling us all to account and therefore, it’s time to review, refocus and make a change in our collective fight.”

Ms Hargreaves told the conference that:

    81% of the images and videos the IWF actioned during 2012 were of child victims that appeared to be 10 years old or under;
    4% were under the age of 2;
    53% depicted activity between adults and children including rape and sexual torture.

Outlining some of the key successes of the IWF. She said:

“To date no one from an ISP has been arrested in the UK because of what users are accessing and politicians and governments around the world have been influenced by what has been achieved by the IWF.

“In 17 years we have assessed over 400,000 URLs of images and videos.

“We have aided the removal of 100,000 URLs – each one can contain up to 1000’s of images.

“When we started 18% of global content was hosted in the UK and this is now down to less than 1% making the UK one of the, if not the, most hostile territory in the world to host this content.

“If content is hosted in the UK it is removed in under 1 hour making the IWF the most successful hotline in the world at removing content hosted in our own country.

“Our achievements outside of the UK have also been huge – over 50% of the content we see is hosted in the USA.  17 years ago it took, on average 20 days for this content in to be removed – but by working with our US partners NCMEC (the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children) and working directly with the US internet industry we have been able to bring this down to three days.

“Most importantly – and from my perspective - this is why we exist…Over the past two years we have assisted the police with the rescue of 12 children and we have, day in day out, removed content stopping children being revictmised.”

Ends

Notes to editors

A picture of Susie Hargreaves is available.

Contact: Emma Lowther, Director of External Relations, 07929 553679/01223 203030 or media@iwf.org.uk. Twitter: @IWF_Emma.  

Kristof Claesen, Press and Public Affairs Manager, 07976 444164/01223 203030 or media@iwf.org.uk.

About the Internet Watch Foundation

The IWF was established in 1996 by the internet industry to provide the UK internet Hotline for the public and IT professionals to report criminal online content in a secure and confidential way.

The Hotline service can be used anonymously to report content within our remit:

    child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world;
    criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK;
    non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.

Success

We help internet service providers and hosting companies to combat the abuse of their networks through our ‘notice and takedown’ service which alerts them to content within our remit so they can remove it from their networks.

We also provide unique data to law enforcement partners in the UK and abroad to assist investigations into the distributors. As a result of this approach the content we deal with has been virtually eradicated from UK networks.

As sexually abusive images of children are primarily hosted abroad, we facilitate the industry-led initiative to protect users from inadvertent exposure to this content by blocking access to it through our provision of a dynamic list of child sexual abuse web pages.

Achievements

    By sharing intelligence with police the IWF aided the identification and rescue of 12 children in the past two years;
    Less than 1% of child sexual abuse content is hosted in the UK since 2003, down from 18% in 1996;
    Child sexual abuse content is removed in the UK typically within 60 minutes;
    Time taken to remove child sexual abuse content hosted outside the UK halved to 10 days in 2011;
    Over 400,000 web pages assessed since 1996;
    100,000 URLs removed for containing criminal content.

Self-regulation

We are an independent self-regulatory body, funded by the EU and the online industry, including internet service providers (ISPs), mobile operators, content  providers, hosting providers, filtering companies, search providers, trade associations and the financial sector. Our self-regulatory partnership approach is widely recognised as a model of good practice in combating the abuse of technology for the dissemination of criminal content.

Sharing Good Practice

We work with UK government to influence initiatives developed to combat online abuse and this dialogue goes beyond the UK and Europe to promote greater awareness of global issues, trends and responsibilities.

We work internationally with INHOPE Hotlines and other relevant organisations to encourage united global responses to the problem and wider adoption of good practice in combating child sexual abuse images on the internet.

Tactics

There are a number of tactics carried out by the IWF on a national and, where relevant, international basis which minimise the availability of child sexual abuse content online:

    Reporting mechanism for the public to report any inadvertent exposure to potentially criminal child sexual abuse content;
    ‘Notice and takedown’ system to swiftly remove child sexual abuse content at source in the UK;
    Targeted assessment and monitoring system to remove child sexual abuse content in newsgroups;
    Provision of a child sexual abuse URL list to internet service providers, mobile operators, search providers and filtering providers to help disrupt access to child sexual abuse content which is hosted outside the UK and not yet taken down;
    Working with domain name registries and registrars to deregister domain names dedicated to the distribution of child sexual abuse content.

About Internet Watch Foundation membership

IWF Members have access to a range of services designed to combat online child sexual abuse images and videos. These services help reduce the ability of criminals to exploit legitimate services and speed up the removal of child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world.

The IWF and its Member organisations are committed to the shared vision of an internet free of child sexual abuse content.

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