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“Zero tolerance” is needed across Europe as figures show it’s a world hub for hosting child sexual abuse material

There are calls to make Europe a no-go zone for online sexual predators as new figures reveal that 9 in 10 webpages identified by the IWF showing videos and images of children suffering sexual abuse, rape, and torture are hosted on servers in Europe.

IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves says the issue must not be "left on the backburner" during the coronavirus crisis

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) CEO is warning that the situation could get worse, given the increased concerns over the activities of sexual predators on the internet during the Covid-19 pandemic. Susie Hargreaves OBE, said the issue must not be “left on the back burner” as the world struggles to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Hargreaves is calling on the European Commission to review the effectiveness of the Child Sexual Abuse Directive which is approaching its tenth anniversary. She’s calling on governments, technology companies, and law enforcement to come together to discuss the effectiveness of the directive and what more can be done to tackle this issue to create a zero tolerance of child sexual abuse material across Europe.

New figures released today (April 27) by the IWF show the amount of child sexual abuse material hosted in Europe has risen, with a vast amount of the world’s worst material being hosted on servers in the Netherlands. 

The IWF is the UK-based charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of children suffering sexual abuse from the internet. It takes such reports from more than 30 countries.

IWF figures released in their annual report show that:

  • In 2019, almost nine in 10 (89%) known URLs containing child sexual abuse material were hosted in Europe. This compares to eight in 10 (79%) in 2018.
  • This is followed by North America, which hosted 9% of all known child sexual abuse URLs in 2019, a fall from 18% in 2018.

 

A further country breakdown of the IWF’s figures show that:

  • The Netherlands hosts 71% of the child sexual abuse content found by the IWF. This equates to 93,962 URLs. This is an increase from 2018 when the Netherlands was found to be hosting 47% of all known child sexual abuse material.

 

The Netherlands has become a target for hosting child sexual abuse material due to its strong internet infrastructure which makes it an easy place for any internet company to operate. These companies also offer low cost hosting services. 

Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “We have seen a real and frightening jump in the amount of child sexual abuse material that is being hosted right on our doorstep here in Europe. We also have a real opportunity for change to create a zero tolerance of this material when work on the Child Sexual Abuse Directive begins later this year.

“No country is immune to this terrible criminality. Whilst the UK doesn’t have the hosting issue, our problem is that many consumers of child sexual abuse live here. We’ve got to fight this on both fronts – both the supply and the demand.

“Together with our law enforcement and online safety colleagues, we’re very concerned about the impact of Covid-19 and we fully expect to see more child sexual abuse material being shared and available for some time to come; this issue must not be left on the back burner.

“There is a lot going on in the world right now with the Coronavirus crisis plunging everyone into uncharted territory, but the world should not be allowing safe havens to exist anywhere for these depraved criminals.”

The IWF develops tools and provides a suite of services for technology companies to help prevent the abuse of their platforms for child sexual abuse content. IWF is looking at ways to share them with as many partners as possible.

As an INHOPE Hotline (International Association of Internet Hotlines) the IWF works closely with all other INHOPE Hotlines around the world to ensure that our partners are alerted when analysts find child sexual abuse content hosted in their country.

Arda Gerkens, CEO of EKOM, which comprises the Dutch Hotline for dealing with child sexual abuse as well as the helpline for victims of online sexual abuse, said: “The Netherlands is unfortunately the biggest webhosting country when it comes to this material. A strong and swift infrastructure combined with low costs, appeals to services that host images. Those services are often abused by people sharing this material.

“Acting on a notice to take down should be a last resort. It’s best if this material doesn't come online at all. I would like to advocate that all companies and law enforcement that have a verified hashlist, share them among each other, although it might mean that legislation would need to be revised to do so. We are happy that IWF has proposed to explore the possibilities of sharing our hashlists within the current legal environment.”

The IWF’s Annual Report 2019 can found at www.iwf.org.uk/AR2019

Report here