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How to deal with child sexual abuse images at work

A Best Practice Guide

Introduction

This best practice guide is designed to provide a quick checklist of things your organisation should observe when dealing with indecent images of children that are found on your computers, electronic devices and/or networks. That may happen because of criminal behaviour by staff or a breach of security. Equally, your staff may be inadvertently exposed to indecent images of children whilst using the internet at work.

As a responsible organisation you will need to ensure that your organisation and its staff are equipped to deal with indecent images of children in accordance with the legislation.

Know the law

The relevant legislation is contained in the Protection of Children Act 1978 (England and Wales) as amended and the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales).

It is important that as an organisation you understand the law regarding indecent images of children. Specifically:

  • It is an offence to possess, distribute, show and make indecent images of children.
  • Making of indecent images of children includes viewing them on the internet otherwise known as ‘downloading’.
  • The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales) defines a child, for the purposes of indecent images, as anyone under the age of 18. The Civic Government (Scotland) Act, 1982 replicates this.
  • The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales) provides a defence for handling potentially criminal images and this is supported by a Memorandum of Understanding which provides guidance on what is and is not acceptable.
  • This letter from Police Scotland provides reassurance to hosting companies and their employees that if they are acting within the law with regards to child sexual abuse images that they will not be prosecuted.

Policies

All organisations should have clear policies on how to deal with indecent images of children. Specifically, your organisation should have policies that:

  • Set out clearly what is acceptable use of all electronic devices provided by your organisation.
  • Set out clearly for your human resources team a policy for dealing with staff found in possession of indecent images of children at work.
  • Set out clearly for the whole organisation what to do if an indecent image of a child is discovered and who within your organisation will deal with such matters.

Staff awareness

For organisational policies to be effective they need to be easily accessible and each member of staff needs to be aware of their contents. Some organisations insist that each member of staff is sent a copy of such policies and acknowledges receipt.

What to do if a member of staff is inadvertently exposed to indecent images of children whilst using the internet

  • The URLs (webpage addresses) which contain the suspect images should be reported to the Internet Watch Foundation via www.iwf.org.uk – the member of staff can do this themselves or your policy may dictate that they report it first to a designated person within your organisation. You must avoid sending copies of the images to the Internet Watch Foundation.
  • Any copies that exist of the image, for example in emails, should be deleted.

What to do if indecent images of children are found on your organisation’s electronic devices

  • A person or small team should be designated as the only person(s) within your organisation who should deal with such matters.
  • Your organisation’s policy on this matter should be strictly adhered to.
  • The URLs (webpage addresses) which contain the suspect images should be reported to the Internet Watch Foundation via www.iwf.org.uk – the member of staff can do this themselves or your policy may dictate that they report it first to a designated person within your organisation. You must avoid sending copies of the images to the Internet Watch Foundation.
  • The police should be informed.
  • If any copies need to be stored at the request of the police, then they should be stored securely where no one else has access to them.
  • All other copies must be deleted.

What to do if a member of staff is found in possession of indecent images of children on their electronic device provided by the organisation

  • You should have someone within your organisation who is responsible for dealing with such matters and is aware of their obligations under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales) and the associated Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Contact the police regarding the images. If you are in doubt about whether the images are criminal, then discuss with the police the best way for them to receive copies to determine whether they are criminal or not.
  • Discuss with the police what to do about the device that the images are on.
  • Quarantine the device in question and discuss with the police about checking for any other images on that machine.
  • Depending on your HR Policy and initial discussion with the police consider temporary suspension of the member of staff pending investigation.
  • Be aware of your obligations under the Data Protection Act regarding the disclosure of your staff personal details (for example their home address).

Prevention

There are a number of measures that can help prevent accidental access to indecent images of children:

  • Anti-spam software will help cut down on any emails promoting sites hosting potentially criminal images that may arrive as spam.
  • Firewalls will help prevent unauthorised access to your computer systems, and prevent someone from using them to store potentially criminal images.
  • Web filtering can help prevent accidental access to such images by your staff. The Internet Watch Foundation supplies a list of known active child sexual abuse webpages which some internet service providers and filtering providers use to block access to these pages.
  • Educate your staff about the criminal nature of such images and the consequences they may face both in terms of their employment and in terms of the law if these are discovered in the workplace or on equipment provided by the organisation.

Top tips

Here is a list of top tips for dealing with indecent images of children at work.

Frequently asked questions

You can access a list of frequently asked questions for how to deal with indecent images of children in the workplace here.

*We use the term child sexual abuse to reflect the gravity of the images and videos we deal with. Child pornography, child porn and kiddie porn are not acceptable descriptions. A child cannot consent to their own abuse. If you see such content online please report them to the IWF. 

Report here