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Fifteen times more child abuse content found online than 10 years ago

Internet Watch Foundation analysts are finding more than fifteen times as much child sexual abuse material on the internet as they were ten years ago, it has emerged.

Experts are battling a “tidal-wave of criminal material” and are calling for the government to make protecting children a priority.

CEO of the IWF Susie Hargreaves OBE said: “I took up my position as CEO of the IWF in 2011 and, since then, we have seen a truly mammoth increase in the amount of this harmful, hurtful material available freely on the open web. We’ve more than tripled the number of analysts at the IWF in that time.

“In 2014 we were given the ability to proactively search for this material which was a game-changer for us, making us unique among non-law-enforcement bodies. But the sad fact is, the problem has outpaced the efforts around the world.

“We’re continuing to build world-class technology which helps us, and companies globally, to tackle this criminality, but it’s the work of our human analysts which really sets the IWF apart.

“Our analysts, every day, are holding back a tidal wave of criminal material, preventing it from spreading even further online, and stopping criminals from sharing the horrendous abuse of innocent children. This is why the role we play in the online safety regulation is so important,” she added.

IWF analysts have taken action against 200,000 websites containing child sexual abuse material this year – which is a record amount for the charity.

The number of websites their expert analysts have worked to remove after they were discovered to contain images or videos of child sexual abuse has increased a “mammoth” 1,420% since 2011.

The IWF took action to remove a total of 153,350 sites for the entire year in 2020, which was a record then. But analysts have removed 200,000 websites containing abuse since the beginning of 2021.

The increase in numbers reflects the growing availability of material depicting the rape and sexual torture of children and babies on the open web. But IWF analysts are also becoming more and more adept at finding and identifying criminal content. New technologies, like the IWF’s crawlers and IntelliGrade systems, as well as close working relationships with tech companies, are also helping to make sure more content is removed more quickly once analysts discover it.

“We need to see real action now to halt this rise. The new Online Safety Bill is a once in a generation opportunity to make sure children’s safety is front and centre, and that our digital future is built around a core of measures to protect children,” concluded Ms Hargreaves.

The IWF was set up in 1996 with a team of dedicated analysts who scour the internet to identify child sexual abuse material, which they then work internationally to remove, working alongside tech companies and law enforcement.

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