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Record number of images showing children being sexually abused removed by UK internet charity

More than 100,000 webpages showing the sexual abuse and sexual torture of children have been removed from the internet thanks to the work of the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in 2018 – up by one third on the year before.

Child in front of glass door

Announcing its latest figures, which break previous totals, their Chief Executive Susie Hargreaves OBE described it as “shocking and deeply upsetting” that these images should have been created in the first place. 

In 2018, 4 out of 10 of the webpages the IWF actioned for removal displayed the sexual abuse of children aged 10 years old and younger, with infants and babies featuring more than 1,300 times. 

Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP said: “The horrifying amount of online child sexual abuse material removed by the IWF shows the true scale of the vile threat we are facing. This is why I have made tackling it one of my personal missions.

“I welcome this impressive work and have been encouraged by the progress being made by the tech companies in the fight against online predators. But l want the web giants to do more to make their platforms safe.”

Ms Hargreaves said: “These 105,047 webpages each contained up to thousands of images and videos showing the sexual abuse of children. It amounted to millions of horrific images. Virtually all (more than 99%) were hosted outside of the UK. Whilst we use sophisticated and cutting-edge technology in our work**, ultimately, every webpage was assessed by human eyes. 

“Watching the repeated abuse of children, some of whom are very young, is a difficult job but we have an amazing team of compassionate, resilient and highly trained Internet Content Analysts. They work to give hope to the victims of sexual abuse whose images are shared online repeatedly.

“We work with more than 140 internet companies to keep their networks safe but it’s a sad fact that the vast majority of these webpages (4 out of 5) were hosted by image hosting companies* based overseas, who do not want to engage, and frankly have little regard to providing safe networks, or relieving the suffering of child victims.”

About the one third increase in criminal webpages identified, Ms Hargreaves added: “With just 13 analysts we can do a tremendous amount of work. In fact, we processed 230,000 reports in total. But it’s the development of new technology, such as our intelligent crawler and our bespoke report management system, which has enabled us to process criminal images a lot quicker, and also identify more for removal. Nevertheless, a real person has seen and verified each of the webpages.

“It is shocking and deeply upsetting that these images should have been created in the first place. We have set ourselves an ambitious programme of work for 2019. By getting better at finding, and combatting this material, we offer real hope to the victims whose images are shared online.”

The full 2018 IWF statistics and trends analysis will feature in the 2018 Annual Report, to be published April 2019.

Girl face

* Image hosting companies were responsible for hosting 82% of all the child sexual abuse webpages IWF analysts identified in 2018. An image hosting service lets users upload images which are then available through a unique URL. This URL can be used to make online links, or be embedded in other websites, forums and social networking sites.

** We use sophisticated and cutting-edge technology in our work: 

Our Intelligent Crawler

Whilst we have the capability to crawl millions of webpages a day searching for child sexual abuse imagery, we are proud to use our intelligent crawler to be most effective for our analysts, sister hotlines, and law enforcement partners around the world. Ultimately, human eyes verify each webpage showing such criminal content before we work with the relevant country and internet company to get it removed. We have an ambitious programme or work for 2019 around preventing the images from being uploaded in the first place. 

Report Management System v4

We’ve developed and launched a fourth iteration of our report management system which is a bespoke system used by our highly trained analysts to assess child sexual abuse imagery. This has contributed to a 50% saving of time needed to perform assessments. This has undoubtedly contributed to our 13 analysts identifying more than 100,000 webpages showing child sexual abuse imagery in 2018.

The IWF Hash List

We turn child sexual abuse images into unique codes (hashes). There are more than 320,000 unique hashes of illegal images on our list which we make available to the internet industry. It means they can remove matching images already on their services, and even prevent them from being uploaded. 

Report here