The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) are a not-for-profit child protection organisation. They identify images and videos showing the sexual abuse of children found on the internet.

They work with partners and law enforcement globally to have them removed. For 25 years they have given people a safe place to report child sexual abuse imagery, anonymously. The Foundation now operates in 48 countries.

They nurture highly-trained analysts to assess public reports and proactively search for child sexual abuse material. They work with global internet industry partners, hotlines and law enforcement to stop the spread of such imagery.

The core values of the IWF are to use technology for good and to develop services and data sets for the tech industry that keep children safer.

The Internet Watch Foundation shared statistics from research they performed in 2020 [1]:

“In 2020, we assessed a webpage every two minutes. Every three minutes that webpage showed a child being sexually abused”

  • In 2020, 299,619 reports were assessed. 153,383 reports confirmed as child sexual abuse imagery: 16% increase from 2019
  • 44% contained ‘self-generated’ imagery (first person produced)
  • Just 0.1% of child sexual abuse material was UK-hosted.
  • 77% hosted in the Netherlands
  • .com was the most abused Top-Level Domain
  • 11- to 13-year-old children were most seen age group: 64% of all actioned content.

Over the past three years, an increasing amount of child sexual abuse material found by the IWF featured girls rather than boys. In 2018, 78% of images were of girls, in 2019, 92% of images were of girls and in 2020, 93% of images were of girls.

Self-generated (first person produced) Child Sexual Abuse

The IWF continue to see exponential increases in what is termed “self-generated” child sexual abuse content, created using webcams or smartphones and then shared online via a growing number of platforms.

In some cases, children are groomed, deceived, or extorted into producing and sharing a sexual image or video of themselves. The images and videos predominantly involve girls aged 11 to 13 years old, in their bedrooms or another room in a home setting.

With much of the world subject to periods of lockdown at home due to Covid-19, the volume of this kind of imagery has only grown:

  • Most instances 80% show 11- to 13-year-old girls. Girls of all ages account for 95%
  • Mainly affects children aged 7 to 17
  • Once captured, these images and videos can be recirculated for years after they were originally created

Sibling abuse is also becoming increasingly common, where children are being tricked and coerced into abusing their siblings over webcams. The IWF has reported 511 instances of this type of abuse every 3 months/8 times a day. This happens in the family home, with parents/carers unaware.

Prevention Campaign

As an organisation the IWF has been looking at ways of building resilience to the threat of self-generated sexual abuse of children, thereby reducing the number of incidences. The two fundamental aims of the foundation are:

  1. To help girls ages 11-13 to recognise the actions of offenders, feel empowered to block, report and tell someone they trust
  2. To raise parental awareness of this criminality and motivate and educate them to help protect their children

The project funded by the IWF, Microsoft and the UK Government’s Home Office carried out stakeholder interviews; interviews with children, and parents as well as NGOs, and the government to help understand the problem and generate initial ideas for the campaign.

Extensive stakeholder feedback was sought, as well as feedback from a group of survivors of child sexual abuse. The campaign launched on 21 April 2021 and will run for six weeks, there are discussions of possible partnerships with others in order to extend the campaign or ensure that there is a phase 2.

Gurls out Loud targets young girls who use social media, urging them to “Block, Report and tell someone you trust” if they are falling victim to online predators.

Home Truths

To complement the prevention campaign the IWF created the T.A.L.K resource for parents to help them understand the risk to their children from online predators. The resource was written by an education writer, with input from an online safety consultant.

The TALK checklist:

Talk about online sexual abuse

Agree digital boundaries

Learn about online platforms your child loves

Know how to use tools and safety settings

Resource for Parents

The IWF has also teamed up with the Welsh Government to create a PDF download and a microsite. The guidance has three parts:

  • Helps parents understand more about online child sexual abuse: what it is, who does it, and how it happens. It also tells them more about the ways children use social media, to explain why simply ‘banning’ it doesn’t work
  • Answers the question: “What can I do?” and gives practical and clear advice to parents for keeping their children safe
  • Tells parents what to do if they suspect or know that a child is being sexually abused online, and lists specialist organisations that can also help

The UK Safer Internet Centre is a European Commission-funded project encouraging responsible use of technology and making the internet a safer place for children and young people. The centre includes:

  • Awareness Centre: to provide advice and support to children and young people, parents and carers and schools
  • Hotline: an anonymous and safe place to report and remove child sexual abuse imagery and videos, wherever they are found in the world
  • Helpline: to provide support to professionals working with children and young people with online safety issues

Recruiting the Right People

It is very important that the IWF recruit the right people for the work they do as the analysts have to look through many disturbing images.

An application form and formal interview take place as well as a personal interview with a counsellor where the applicant will be probed. They will be subject to an image viewing assessment where images are shown in a range of severity.

The job offer is subject to:

  • An enhanced DBS check
  • Pre-medical check
  • Satisfactory references

Staff are taken care of due to the fact they are constantly viewing criminal material. They have regular away days, shorter working days, outdoor environments, monthly counselling, psychological assessments, plus no overtime, no homeworking and no solo-working.

[1] Hardy, Emma. 2021. Communications Director. Internet Watch Foundation

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The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) have a vision to eliminate child sexual abuse imagery online. This case study examines the work of the IWF and what they are doing to tackle online child exploitation.

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