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As a precaution against the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Internet Watch Foundation will be operating at a reduced capacity. We provide a vital service for the public and are committed to staying open but there is likely to be a delay responding to reports, emails and calls. People can still report child sexual abuse imagery as normal here.

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Mental Health Awareness Week – Doing one of the most difficult jobs

On Mental Health Awareness Week, we raise awareness of the difficult but crucial work our analysts do and how we give them the best care we can.

Our analysts are the people at the heart of everything we do and at the forefront of the global fight against child sexual abuse images and videos online.  

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Our analysts see more distressing images in a day than most see in their lifetime. Day in, day out, we see many children whose peace of mind is ruined by an internet which should be a place of joyful exploration, freedom, and discovery. It takes a very special person to be able to view these images without losing their compassion and concern. And a much larger team to look after these professionals.  

Our gold-standard welfare system is in place to help them do this crucial task, even more within the current extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Our 13 analysts assessed more than 20,000 reports each in 2019. They’re highly trained to identify criminal imagery but, unfortunately, they’re also often exposed to all sorts of hideous content they often don’t expect to see, and images that can unexpectedly impact them more than others. 

Amongst other measures to protect their wellbeing, all new analysts go through a specially developed induction training programme to help them mentally process and cope with exposure to disturbing images. This was recently described in an independent audit as “outstanding”.

Our analysts’ working hours are strictly monitored; they take regular timetabled breaks and are encouraged to take more breaks as and when they need. All our staff work shorter days to ensure their personal lives don’t suffer, and we don’t allow overtime. 

Each month they have individual mandatory counselling sessions and all employees who see criminal imagery have a full psychological assessment every year. In fact, everyone who works for us is offered counselling support. Due to Coronavirus and the extra burden this might be putting on their mental wellbeing, all analysts are being offered additional access to counselling sessions to go through any aspect that might be worrying them. 

We also support them by creating technology-for-good. We’re working on new classifiers that will help us identify the reports most likely to show new child sexual abuse material, versus duplicate images which we’ve seen and assessed before. Our classifiers will empower our analysts to have an even greater impact: their time and skills will be more focused on reviewing new child sexual abuse imagery and their wellbeing will be better safeguarded by not having to see the same abuse imagery on multiple occasions and the children depicted in the duplicate images will have greater privacy. 

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“Doing this job has made me realise just how big the problem of online child sexual abuse is. It’s a human issue, spread by technology like never before, and we have a lot of work to do. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time listening to survivors of childhood sexual abuse and hearing how that experience has stood in the way of their life so many times. Coming to work at the IWF meant I could make a practical difference. When people know that the images of their childhood suffering can – and will – be stopped from re-emerging, they can feel safer and stronger. It feels good to know that we’re helping to make the internet a safer place.” Rosa is one of our world-class analysts. For her, as for all other 12 analysts in the Hotline, nothing makes them feel better than hearing from our law enforcement partners that intelligence they provided has led to a child, who is now safe. Because of those moments, they tirelessly work to put an end to this global crime. 

Their task is to make the internet safer for everyone to use and to stop the revictimisation of child victims of sexual abuse, and our task is to help them do that in the best possible way. IWF may operate in a highly advanced technological world, but it’s the expertise and experience of our analysts that sets us apart. Taking care of the psychological wellbeing of these extraordinary people is a real privilege. 

Mental Health Awareness Week reminds us of the importance of caring for our own psychological wellbeing, and that of the people we have around. Counselling can be a fantastic help to people in all walks of life and is certainly necessary to support the incredible work our real-life superheroes in the Hotline do. We want them to be able to leave their work at the door; we don’t want them compartmentalising things or feeling they have to share distress about work at home. The counselling sessions help them enjoy the good mental health they need to continue their fight to help those children who cannot help themselves. 

Hear more about the work of our analysts in a behind-the-scenes podcast called Pixels From a Crime Scene launched spring 2020. Pixels from a Crime Scene is available to download at www.iwf.org.uk/pixels-from-a-crime-scene or on your podcast player of choice including:

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | iHeart Radio

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