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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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Our participation at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

By Susie Hargreaves OBE

Susie's photo

I’ve recently heard some truly horrendous experiences of online grooming and sexual abuse which has brought the IWF’s mission into sharp focus for me. 

I’ve spent two weeks at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). It was set up because of serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.

We applied for Core Participant status at this Inquiry because we felt we had something to offer Professor Alexis Jay – the Chair – and her panel – and we’re on a mission to learn and to improve, and ultimately to give hope to victims and survivors across the world. 

Whilst the internet affords great opportunities, it also assists offenders in committing horrendous crimes against children.

The inquiry has still got some way to go and in our closing statement, we thought about the three top things we believe should be delivered for victims of sexual abuse. 

There should be a national ‘Prevent’ campaign.  We need a sustained national campaign with as many partners and contributors as possible, to deliver a zero-tolerance message to young men aged 16-25 who are most at risk of viewing indecent images of children.  

We need to progress our technical projects and push the boundaries of what we can achieve through the Home Office’s Child Abuse Image Database (CAID). To have the resources to assess and hash new images to enter CAID, and to have the ability to fuel our crawler with these hashes, and also share the hashes with our internet industry partners around the world would be a gift to victims whose sexual abuse images are swapped daily like collectable playing cards.

Finally, our resources are finite and due to Brexit, we soon expect the loss of some EU funds which pay half of our analysts’ salaries. We currently have 13 analysts and we are able to remove child sexual abuse images to the tune of millions per year. We also have 8,000 potential new keywords used by sexual predators online to find criminal imagery. We need to assess and test these to add to a list which internet companies use to stop people finding the imagery. Imagine if we had more analysts to do this work? The potential benefit to victims is huge. They need to know that there’s someone out there who cares enough to help. For the IWF, where the resources come from is not the biggest issue, being able to do the work is what drives the organisation.

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