The scourge of online child sexual abuse is growing and the impact it has on victims can be devastating and last a lifetime. In the UK alone, according to the National Crime Agency, there are at least 800,000 men who pose a sexual threat to children. The Covid-19 pandemic made the problem worse, as both children and offenders are stuck at homes during lockdown and spending more time online.
In 2020, the IWF was awarded a funding grant from the End Violence Fund to develop a tool which will help prevent children from becoming victims of child sexual abuse.
In partnership with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, we are building a chatbot to target internet users who are showing signs that they might be looking for images of child sexual abuse.
The chatbot will engage them in a friendly and supportive conversation, make them realise that their online behaviour is damaging to children and at the right time, signpost and refer them to our partner organisation, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which could help them change and control their behaviour. The aim is for our chatbot to target these users at that moment before they actually commit a criminal offence.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a UK child protection charity running programs to prevent child sexual abuse by working with offenders and those who are worried about their thoughts or behaviour towards children. Their initiatives include the anonymous Stop It Now! Helpline, the Stop It Now! Get Help website and campaign, providing self-help resources and information. Their deterrence campaigns clearly evidence that many offenders would seek help to change their behaviour, when they know help is available.
The chatbot will disrupt people trying to access online child sexual abuse material, engage with them, alert them that their behaviour may be criminal and signpost them to counselling and intervention support offered by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, to help them control their inappropriate sexual thoughts and behaviour.
By combining the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s expertise in working with offenders and potential offenders, with IWF’s experience of using technology to combat child sexual abuse content, the project has the potential to become a game-changing tool in protecting child victims of sexual abuse.
The chatbot is planned to be fully working and rolled out by the end of 2022.