France fifth worst for hosting child sexual abuse content in EU, as criminals target French servers

Published:  Fri 22 Sep 2023

The most extreme child sexual abuse imagery hosted in the EU is “spiralling out of control” as French lawmakers are warned there’s no room for complacency.   

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is warning that “ruthless” criminal gangs are exploiting EU member states as “safe havens” to host abhorrent criminal imagery of children suffering sexual abuse, rape, and torture.

This comes as French hotline Point de Contact warns the situation in France is “hard to believe”, and calls on French lawmakers to support the EU’s upcoming ‘regulation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse’.

The data also shows that the most extreme kinds of child sexual abuse, which can include rape, bestiality, and sadism, (known in the UK as Category A material) being hosted in the EU has risen 54% compared to 2022.

  • Between January 1 and August 25 this year, the IWF identified 101,988 webpages containing child sexual abuse material which were hosted on servers in EU countries. Each webpage may contain thousands of images or videos of children being abused.
  • This compares to 80,977 pages in the same period in 2022 – a 26% increase.
  • Of all the webpages the IWF discovered so far this year, 21,651 contained Category A material – depicting the most extreme forms of child sexual abuse. Category A material can include rape, bestiality, and sadism and sexual torture.
  • This is a 54% increase on the same period in 2022 – when 14,094 webpages contained Category A material.

The IWF is now calling on lawmakers to “get a grip” on the worsening situation, and support forthcoming legislation to tackle the spread of online child sexual abuse material.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “If these were warehouses full of drugs, or weapons, there would be instant action to rid countries of these ruthless criminal gangs.

“It should be no different with child sexual abuse material. Criminals are looking to where they can store their evil and exploitative imagery, and they see the EU as a safe haven. The situation risks spiralling out of control.

“These gangsters are turning the continent into a toxic warehouse for this dangerous criminal content. The EU must now pass vital legislation to prevent the spread of child sexual abuse material. It is absolutely essential the French government maintains its strong support for the proposed regulation and takes a strong leadership role in convincing other member states to do the same.

“We know France has a strong commitment to tackling this issue. Just this week, the French Childrens’ Minister, Charlotte Caubel, launched a public awareness campaign which highlighted that every three minutes a child is the victim of rape, incest, or sexual assault. President Macron also used last year’s Paris Peace Forum to create a new child online protection laboratory, both are welcome developments. It is vital they now take the next step in leading the way to creating a brighter future for Europe’s children.”

“Failing to do so will only ensure the situation continues to worsen, and will send a clear message to criminals and abusers that the EU is a safe place for them to operate. This must not be allowed to happen.”

Quentin Aoustin, Chief Operating Officer at Point de Contact, the French hotline dedicated to tackling child sexual abuse imagery online, said the situation in France is “hard to believe” and urged lawmakers to take a strong stance against the spread of child sexual abuse imagery.

He said: “These numbers are hard to believe, but they are the reality we are living in.

“With the power of today’s technology to detect images of sexual abuse of children, and after 25 years of international collaboration of hotlines across Europe, the numbers keep growing.

“This problem is addressable. The IWF and Point de Contact cannot solve it alone, but our work will help mobilize the decision-makers in France so we make a true impact”.

Both Point de Contact and the IWF are members of INHOPE, the international network of hotlines fighting the spread of child sexual abuse imagery.

The EU regularly tops the IWF’s list of the worst places for the hosting of this material. The Netherlands in particular has become known for hosting criminal imagery.

So far in 2023, the IWF has confirmed 75,251 webpages hosted in the Netherlands that harbour child sexual abuse imagery. This is a 107% increase on the 36,323 webpages identified in the same period in 2022.

The IWF has warned that even countries which have not historically had issues with criminal hosting of imagery are finding themselves facing worsening situations.

Germany has seen a 150% increase in hosting of child sexual abuse material (9,862 URLs detected from January 1, 2023, to August 25 compared to 3,944 in the same period in 2022).

Estonia has seen a 4,000% increase in the amount of child sexual abuse being hosted in the country – with 164 webpages being traced to the country compared with only four during the same period in 2022*.

Ms Hargreaves added: “Countries need to know that all it takes is a couple of bad image hosts to wash up on their shores. That’s all they need to take root – and soon they will be the destination of choice.

“There is no room for complacency. We must stamp this out now and send a strong message.”

*Data gathered between January 1 – August 25

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