Did you know that there is an online agency whose purpose is to eradicate child abuse imagery online? They are called the Internet Watch Foundation or IWF.
They do a challenging job. Their analysts are trained to spot and deal with child abuse imagery, and at times the job can be extremely distressing.
However, last year the situation was exacerbated by the public, inundating them with irrelevant material or false reports that fall outside of the organisation’s remit. Some of the material sent to the agency included beheadings, animal cruelty, adult pornography and most commonly — imagery from social media platforms that weren’t deemed to be malicious.
Last year one individual sent over 8000 reports which clearly fell outside of the IWF’s scope. This person has been repeatedly warned, but the organisation can’t simply ban this person because their next report might be genuine.
Therein lies the problem. When an analyst receives a report, they are duty-bound to investigate it, no matter what. They have to check each image to ensure there is no criminal intent whatsoever. That takes up an incredible amount of time and wastes resources which could be used on eradicating child abuse imagery.
A senior analyst said “Last year it took the equivalent of more than four years’ worth of analyst time to deal with false reports. Imagine what we could have achieved for victims of sexual abuse. There could have been thousands of criminal sites that we could be getting offline — thousands of illegal images of children being sexually abused we could be removing from the internet. We are instead dealing with reports of something that we know we can’t do anything about.”*
Additionally, their analysts are trained to deal with being exposed to child abuse imagery but may not be so well equipped to deal with animal abuse or violent imagery the public sometimes send to them.
However, it’s incredibly important that people report child abuse imagery if they happen upon it but under no circumstances should you be searching for it. Worryingly, there are a growing number of so-called vigilantes on the internet, but these people don’t realise they are falling foul of the law and could be prosecuted for the same crimes they’re trying to prevent. They need to be reminded that the law does not distinguish between someone who searches for child abuse imagery to report it to the authorities or someone who uses it for malicious intent.
The IWF is a safe place to report such material, and they have clear guidelines on how to deal with child abuse imagery, if you should stumble upon it. You can even send it to them anonymously if you feel uncomfortable.
The IWF website has some harrowing stories of how adults who have been a victim of child abuse in the past still live in fear of their children finding images of them on the internet. The threat still exists today to anyone with access to a mobile device and an internet connection.
For example, a girl called Anna sent compromising pictures of herself to her boyfriend when she was 15. Years later she received a knock at the door from the police who told her that these images were being circulated online. Now that is a frightening prospect.
If you would like to report indecent child abuse material, please use this link: https://report.iwf.org.uk/en