Charity warns 'we have to get a grip' on internet child porn 'epidemic'

7 January 2020, 11:04 | Updated: 7 January 2020, 12:00

The charity has warned of an epidemic on the clear web
The charity has warned of an epidemic on the clear web. Picture: PA

“We’ve got to get a grip on the epidemic on our open internet” - More than a quarter of a million reports of online child sexual abuse were filed over the past year, a leading charity says.

The CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation says a heavy dose of reality is needed over the amount of child sexual abuse content on the internet as millions of abusive images were found and removed last year.

A record number of reports of online child sexual abuse have been processed by the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation amid “shock” that the availability of illegal content online could still be increasing on the open internet.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the UK charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of child sexual abuse from the internet, processed more than a quarter of a million reports in 2019.

Last year, IWF analysts processed 260,400 reports, which include tip-offs from members of the public. This is up from 229,328 reports in 2018. This is an increase of 14 per cent.

Of these reports, 132,700 showed images and/or videos of children being sexually abused. This compares to 105,047 reports of child sexual abuse material in 2018 - an increase of 26 per cent. Every report contains between one, and thousands of child sexual abuse images and videos. This equates to millions of images and videos.

The IWF dealt with  260,400 reports in 2019
The IWF dealt with 260,400 reports in 2019. Picture: PA

IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE said: “What’s really shocking is that it’s all available on the open internet, or ‘clear web’. That’s the everyday internet that we all use to do our shopping, search for information, and obtain our news.

“Obviously, we know there’s child sexual abuse content on the dark web but right now it’s really a case of saying ‘we’ve got to get a grip on the epidemic on our open internet’, and now is the time to do it.

“As the Government considers new regulatory legislation on online harms, this presents a real opportunity to do just that. These figures show the crucial role the IWF plays as a vital avenue for the public to report online child sexual abuse material.  

“Child sexual abuse is an horrific topic for people to talk about, but as a society we have got to take on board a heavy dose of reality and face up to what’s right in front of us.

“IWF is a uniquely-placed service working to improve the internet for people across the world. Our partnerships with police and technology companies are essential to stop this abuse happening.

“Whilst we’re investing in the right technology and staff to battle this online epidemic, it is still really shocking to see the number of reports going up.

“It might seem like a needle in a haystack, but every single image is of a real child. As long as there’s one child’s image out there, we will never stop removing this content.

“Thanks to our analysts, millions of images that would otherwise still be online are eradicated from the internet.”

IWF’s hotline manager, who asked to be identified only as “Chris” said: “We have passed the quarter of a million mark, which is a first.”

Chris said there are a number of factors behind the increase, including better staff awareness and expertise.

“We look at every report which comes into our hotline, but not every report leads to child sexual abuse content. Whilst we actively encourage people to report to us content within our remit because it helps us do a good job, actually, far too many people are wasting our time. Our analysts have to look at everything they’re sent. So, our message is, yes please report to us, but please, please stop reporting material outside our remit.”

False reports to IWF in 2018 cost the charity £150,500, equating to 4.3 years of analyst time.