Online child sexual abuse reports at record levels, warns charity

The Internet Watch Foundation has reported an increase in reports of images and videos but warns the public against wasting its resources with false reports.

Joe Lepper | 7th Jan 20

A record number of reports of online child sexual abuse were  handled by the charity Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) last year.

Latest figures from the organisation, which finds and removes images and videos of child sexual abuse on the internet, show it dealt with 260,400 reports in 2019. This is an increase of 14 per cent on 2018’s figure of 229,328.

Of those reports received in 2019 around half (132,700) involved child sexual abuse – an increase of 26 per cent on the previous year.

Each report involves up to 1,000 images or videos.

The charity says such material is available on the open internet and not just the so-called dark web.

“That’s the everyday internet that we all use to do our shopping, search for information, and obtain our news,” said IWF Chief Executive Officer Susie Hargreaves.

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’.”

She added: “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.”

According to the charity better awareness and expertise by those dealing with such images and videos is responsible for the increase.

False reporting concerns

IWF Hotline Manager, who has asked to be identified as ‘Chris’, asked the public with concerns to alert the charity about suspected online child abuse.

However, he also urged people not to contact it with reports that are not related to its remit of tackling online child sexual abuse.

False reports to the IWF in 218 cost the charity £150,500, says the charity.

“We look at every report which comes into our hotline, but not every report leads to child sexual abuse content,” said Chris.

“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.”

The government has committed itself to bringing in online harms legislation to better protect children and vulnerable adults from digital threats.