The IWF (Internet Watch Foundation) is a leading organisation removing child sexual abuse imagery from the internet. We work to protect victims from the torment of having the images of their abuse shared again and again, but also protect internet users who want peace of mind that the internet can be a safe place.
Our international partners work with us to help survivors of child sexual abuse move on from their experiences and to provide reassurance that images and content depicting their abuse are taken down.
Our Analysts work every day with incredibly challenging situations and material. One spoke about a report we received last year about content depicting a young girl who we will call Georgia. This isn’t her real name and we’ve changed a few details to protect her identity.
The Analyst said:
“The images were very disturbing. They showed the youngster being sexually abused by a much older man. One of the pictures was particularly graphic and I classified it as category ‘A’ – which is the ‘worst of the worst’ level of abuse. Importantly, because I could legally search for child sexual abuse imagery online, I could track down all the disturbing material. It took me two and a half days to scour the web for more instances of her images. In total, I found 164 URLs. Sadly, the webpages also contained photographs of other children being horribly abused. Some were really, really young. It took two and a half days to get all the images taken down across the world. But I hope the work I did had an important impact for Georgia. I know that our team can’t take the abuse away. The victims we help are real children. They’ve been horribly abused and exploited. Their suffering is very real. But we can remove the online images of their abuse. And for young women like Georgia, we do make a real difference.”
Some of our other Analysts spoke about their experiences.
“As an analyst, nothing can truly prepare you for what you’re going to see. Each working day, we see multiple images of children being hideously abused. These are real children, ordinary children. They go to school, they do their homework, they have friends and families. But something terrible is happening to them in secret and we see their suffering, from newborn babies, right up to teenagers. I try not to think about what’s going on too much, but sometimes it takes your breath away – how could someone do something like that to a baby? This is shocking. There is absolutely no doubt.”
“We all go through a desensitisation programme and we’re introduced to the images on a graded basis. New analysts aren’t just thrown in at the deep end and expected to deal with it; we’re given time and emotional support. But if I’m being totally honest, we’re all human and I would say that for every analyst there will be one victim, one image, that stays with you for longer. For whatever reason, that abuse sticks. We all learn to cope with that. For me, listening to sound, it makes it more real. It seems to hit your emotions if you can hear the child crying or an adult shouting. It makes it hard to escape the truth.”
“Yes, there are three to four images that I’ll carry around with me for a very long time. I wish we didn’t have to do this job, but for now, that’s not the case. Our work ranges from the erotic posing of children, through to the most severe abuse – rape and sexual torture. It can be quite distressing for people to see what is horrendous abuse inflicted on innocent and often very young children. The sites we find could contain anything from one to a thousand images of child rape. That’s not easy to handle. But for every abusive image, we remove from the internet, that’s one less image of suffering on the web. And we never forget that each image we identify is a crime scene. Our work could and does lead to the rescue of these children.”
“Sadly, for the children that aren’t rescued, we sometimes see victims growing up. Their lives play out in front of us, from tiny babies to toddlers, young teens to adults. These are perhaps the most tragic cases and they’re driven by offenders, who demand more and more images of abuse. I suppose that’s why we do what we do. We want to make a difference. We want to stop victims being tormented by the fact that the images and videos of their abuse could be shared and shared again. We want to help rescue these child victims. As our team manager says, we’re just an ordinary bunch of people – but we’re doing an extraordinary job.”