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90% of child abuse imagery hosted in Europe, warns IWF

Nine out of 10 web pages identified by the Internet Watch Foundation showing videos and images of children being abused are hosted on servers in Europe, the charity has revealed.

IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE is warning that the situation could get worse, given the increased concerns over the activities of sexual predators on the internet during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Susie Hargreaves said: “We have seen a real and frightening jump in the amount of child sexual abuse material that is being hosted right on our doorstep here in Europe. We also have a real opportunity for change to create a zero tolerance of this material when work on the Child Sexual Abuse Directive begins later this year.”

IWF figures show that:

- Almost nine in 10 (89%) known URLs containing child sexual abuse material of children suffering sexual abuse, rape, and torture were hosted in Europe in 2019. This compares to eight in 10 (79%) in 2018.

- This is followed by North America, which hosted 9% of all known child sexual abuse URLs in 2019, a fall from 18% in 2018.

A further country breakdown of the IWF’s figures show that the Netherlands hosts 71% of the child sexual abuse content found by the IWF. This equates to 93,962 URLs and is an increase from 2018 when the Netherlands was found to be hosting 47% of all known child sexual abuse material.

The Netherlands has become a target for hosting child sexual abuse material due to its strong internet infrastructure which makes it an easy place for any internet company to operate. These companies also offer low cost hosting services.

Susie Hargreaves said the issue must not be “left on the back burner” as the world struggles to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The IWF is calling on the European Commission to review the effectiveness of the Child Sexual Abuse Directive which is approaching its tenth anniversary.

Ms Hargreaves is urging governments, technology companies, and law enforcement to come together to discuss the effectiveness of the directive and what more can be done to tackle this issue to create a zero tolerance of child sexual abuse material across Europe.

Ms Hargreaves said: “No country is immune to this terrible criminality. Whilst the UK doesn’t have the hosting issue, our problem is that many consumers of child sexual abuse live here. We’ve got to fight this on both fronts – both the supply and the demand.

“Together with our law enforcement and online safety colleagues, we’re very concerned about the impact of Covid-19 and we fully expect to see more child sexual abuse material being shared and available for some time to come; this issue must not be left on the back burner.

“There is a lot going on in the world right now with the Coronavirus crisis plunging everyone into uncharted territory, but the world should not be allowing safe havens to exist anywhere for these depraved criminals,” she concluded.

The IWF’s Annual Report 2019 can found here.

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