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Record amounts of online child abuse content removed thanks to new tech – report

The Internet Watch Foundation said it removed 105,047 web addresses containing imagery of child sexual abuse in 2018 Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Record amounts of child sexual abuse imagery were found online and removed last year thanks to improving technology in the field of detecting and assessing such images, according to a new report.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) said that the amount of child sex abuse imagery hosted in the UK was now at the lowest level ever recorded – 0.04% of the global total – but added more still needed to be done to tackle the demand for such content.

The group said it removed 105,047 web addresses containing imagery of child sexual abuse in 2018.

The internet watchdog’s annual report, called Once Upon a Year, said its analysts find an image or video of a child suffering abuse every five minutes.

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It also claims that in four out of five instances of content being discovered, it was being hosted in a European country, with almost half (47%) found in the Netherlands.

The foundation’s chief executive Susie Hargreaves said: “For 23 years, we have been removing from the internet images and videos showing the sexual abuse of children.

“Despite us removing more and more images than ever before, and despite creating and using some of the world’s leading technology, it’s clear that this problem is far from being solved.

“The cause of the problem is the demand. Unfortunately, and as the police tell us often, there are 100,000 people sitting in the UK right now demanding images of the abuse of children.

“This is a global challenge and no doubt every country’s police force will have their own estimations of this criminality.

“With this continued demand for images of child rape, it’s a constant battle.

“That’s why we’re calling for all the partners to get together to run a long-term, well-funded prevention campaign.

“Without this, the battle just can’t be won.”

Ms Hargreaves also voiced her support for the Government’s recently published white paper on online harms, which laid out plans to create a new independent regulator for internet companies and to hold them to a new, mandatory duty of care to their users.

She said the IWF saw the proposals as a “huge opportunity for us all to step up and have a greater impact for people who use the internet and for child victims of sexual abuse”.

The IWF was founded in 1996 and works with a number of other charities, organisations and law enforcement agencies to find and remove criminal content from the internet, particularly that relates to child sexual abuse.

The group’s report also includes the story of a child referred to as Olivia, who was abused for several years before being saved. But despite being rescued in 2013, the IWF says its analysts still see images of her daily being shared online.

In response to the report, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “Olivia’s story is a heartbreaking example of the horrific ordeal that victims of child sexual abuse can go through. Tackling this sickening crime is a top priority of the Government.

“The IWF do incredible work in removing this content from the web, but we need to stop this material from appearing in the first place. The Online Harms white paper, launched this month, will ensure that tech companies have a legal responsibility to remove this vile material from their platforms with severe sanctions for those that do not.”