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  1. ITV Report

How National Crime Agency staff deal with seeing graphic child abuse content every day

  • Shelley Abbott, at the National Crime Agency, speaks to ITV News on her experience policing graphic online content

A former primary school teacher who spends her days policing the internet for images of online child abuse said her job involves "seeing the absolute worst that human nature has to offer".

Shelley Abbott, National Crime Agency operations manager at the Child Sexual Abuse Exploitation Referrals Bureau, told ITV News there was nothing she could do to truly prepare herself for the indecent images, a term she said "does not encapsulate what we are looking at".

But she said coping mechanisms are a key part in dealing with the graphic images and videos she sees every day at the NCA unit in Warrington.

Ms Abbott said well-being is a major factor in keeping the business going, so new starters will be encouraged to have an immediate coping plan - such as taking a break from the screen when they feel affected by anything.

Shelley Abbott and her team at NCA Warrington work everyday to combat online child abuse content. Credit: ITV News

A sliding scale of image exposure is also part of NCA so anyone starting will not be exposed to the most graphic and indecent images.

They get used to images on a gradual basis, before dealing with what is deemed Category A content.

Ms Abbott said: "All of the people here have volunteered to be here, and there is an acceptance that it isn't for everybody.

"Everybody that comes to us goes through a physiological assessment, to see if they have the resilience needed to undertake the role."

The term 'indecent image' does not encapsulate what the NCA team deals with, Ms Abbott said. Credit: ITV News

Asked if there was a moment in her job which she felt was overwhelming, Ms Abbott said: "There is a particular video which springs to mind.

"While I hadn't seen anything as graphic as that before, it did rock me slightly. ... That's where I've needed to step out, cause that for me is just too far."

Ms Abbott said she has now "worked to not think about" that particular piece of distressing footage.

Working to prevent the abuse content from being uploaded onto social media platforms in the first place remains key in the fight against online child abuse, she said.

ITV News has been given exclusive access to Google's engineering base in Zurich to view the technology which it hopes can reverse the rise in graphic child abuse images.

With the tech giants facing increasing scrutiny for not doing enough to tackle graphic content, Ms Abbott said a proactive, rather than reactive approach is needed.

Google is rolling out new technology to identify graphic content and prevent it from being uploaded. Credit: ITV News

Until it is removed, people like the NCA workers will have to endure more horrendous content on a daily basis.

Ms Abbott said the images and videos made her question people rather than her job, as her work ensures children stay safe and offenders are pursued by forces throughout the UK.

"The bigger picture for me is important, the response here without this team, that's what makes me come back day after day," she said.

  • Worried about your online behaviour, or somebody else's? You can visit the www.stopitnow.org.uk website or call the helpline on 0808 1000 900