By Jenny Thornton, IWF International Development Manager
If you stumbled across child sexual abuse imagery online, what would you do? Some would ring the police, many would ask a search engine what to do, and frequently, a member of the public ends up reporting to the IWF (Internet Watch Foundation).
The IWF is a not-for-profit organisation based in the UK, and we are the UK’s hotline for removing child sexual abuse imagery online. We are one of just a few organisations worldwide, which can proactively search for this content and we also process reports from the public while working with governments, law enforcement, the internet industry and charities to carry out our important work.
When we receive a report from the public, we can make the person who reported to us feel better in the knowledge that they’ve done the right thing. We let them know that with their help we do what it takes to remove the image or video, and potentially safeguard a child. Just in 2018, we removed 105,047 webpages showing the sexual abuse and sexual torture of children from the internet, up by one third on the year before.
The UK public are the lucky ones. For so many across the world, there is nowhere they can turn to when they stumble across these disturbing images. That is where the IWF has stepped in – to implement reporting websites, known as IWF Reporting Portals, for priority countries around the world. While the IWF can’t always see from which countries are the people accessing child sexual abuse imagery from, we know that these hosting platforms pop up in countries all around the world. There is no doubt that people are accessing this content around the world too, whether purposely or by chance, sometimes in countries with no legal framework to stop the spread of child sexual abuse.
According to UNICEF, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Rwanda, Gabon and Uganda have some of the highest levels of sexual violence against children. Many organisations, such as the Marie Collins Foundation (a charity that helps the victims of online child sexual abuse), uphold that sexual violence offline and sexual violence online are connected. Live-streamed online child sexual abuse and exploitation also conflates the offline and online abuses of children, often over vast distances. Indeed, online exploitation exists alongside offline sexual abuse against children, which is why the IWF has a list of priority countries to be given a Reporting Portal, using a set of criteria such as the number of incidents of child sexual abuse in the country, an increasing use of the internet in that country, and whether they need help funding this work. Many African countries are also ‘leapfrogging’ the traditional use of accessing the web on laptops, as still happens in many developed countries, by relying heavily on mobile phone internet, which is why much of our work is prioritising the continent.
IWF now has some 26 Portals across the world, with 50 to be in place by the end of 2020. Overall, 30 of these will be funded by The Fund to End Violence Against Children, which awarded the IWF $448,875 to carry out this work over three years. We are already seeing hugely positive steps in the countries which so desperately needed a place to report, and now have a Portal in place.
Jonathan Ssembajwe, Executive Director at Rights of Young Foundation, based in Uganda, said:
“The reality is, online child sexual abuse images are common in our country and there are people taking them to make money and to promote child sexual abuse, often using children from poor families after promising them different things. The public didn’t know how to report those images. But through the Portal, they have a place to report, and by promoting it the way we are the public now know this is available to them. We think this will have a huge impact on the levels of child sexual abuse in our country.”
We have noticed a tide changing on online child sexual abuse in some countries around the world. Our Indian Reporting Portal has seen just under 1,000 reports from the public since 2016 when it was implemented – the most of any Reporting Portals so far.
Everyone deserves somewhere to report child sexual abuse imagery, no matter where they live in the world. To find out more, go to www.iwf.org.uk/what-we-do/how-we-assess-and-remove-content/our-international-reporting-portals