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Why we exist

2017 infographic: 43% of victims assessed as aged 11-15, 55% of victims 10 and younger, 2% of victims assessed 2 or younger, 54% assessed as category A & B

Our vision is the global elimination of child sexual abuse imagery online. 

  • We work to make the internet a safer place. 
  • We help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse. 
  • We search for child sexual abuse images and videos and then we have them removed.  
  • Our Hotline offers a safe place for the public to report anonymously. 
  • We’re a not-for-profit organisation and are supported by the global internet industry and the European Commission. 

Online child sexual abuse imagery is a global problem, which demands a global solution. The internet doesn’t respect geographical borders, so we work closely with partners worldwide. They include industry, law enforcement agencies, governments, charities and other hotlines. This helps us to eradicate online images of child sexual abuse as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Charlotte, Zara, Tara and Anna

  • Charlotte's story

    Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, says:

    “For a child who has been sexually abused, knowing that images of their suffering are being shared time and time again online can make it even more difficult to rebuild their lives.

    “The IWF’s work to track, remove, and block these horrendous pictures has done much to turn off the source of child abuse material. I hope that more internet companies sign up to use the Hash List and that the internet will one day be free from this vile trade.

    “The NSPCC will continue to work with the IWF and the police to bring those responsible for these abhorrent crimes to justice. And we must never forget the child victims who may need protection from further abuse, or therapy to help them recover.”

    Charlotte’s story

    So what does repeat victimisation actually mean? The only people who can truly explain the cruelty of ‘repeat victimisation’ are the victims – the children and young people who have been abused and humiliated by having their image shared online.

    The charity NSPCC have been counselling ‘Charlotte’ through their Protect and Respect project. She was targeted online when she was 15 years old. She thought she was talking to someone her own age, not an adult paedophile, who persuaded her to take and send a naked picture of herself. Her abuser later shared the images online, which left the young girl feeling vulnerable and violated.

    Charlotte said: “It made me feel really low and upset. Sometimes I don’t even want to be alive. When I meet new people, I always think that they could have seen it. The picture might still be out there and they know about it. It makes me feel bad about myself and anxious.

    “Even if it’s just one picture, just one click on your phone, you don’t know where it’s going to go or who will see it.”

  • Zara's story

    Tink Palmer, Chief Executive Officer, Marie Collins Foundation, says:

    “All too frequently, we hear the people who view images of child sexual abuse defending themselves by saying: ‘I only looked at pictures, I didn’t actually hurt anyone.’

    “We work with the victims of child sexual abuse and regularly hear of the devastation that being subjected to abusive imagery has on their lives. All too often, young victims carry a heavy burden of shame and feel that others will judge them, rather than realise that the responsibility for the abuse and its recording lies solely with the perpetrator. 

    “If fewer abusive images are available online, fewer children will be traumatised. That’s why we believe the work the IWF is doing to eliminate images of child sexual abuse online is vital. Every time an abusive image is viewed it means that the victim in the image is re-abused. No victim should have to suffer in this way.”

    Zara’s story

    Zara was 14 when she was befriended online by a 16-year-old boy, or so she thought. Before long he’d convinced her to send compromising, illegal images of herself, arranged to meet and finally started a sexual relationship. Unbeknown to Zara, her abuse was recorded by some friends of her ‘boyfriend’.

    The young girl only found out about the images when her ‘boyfriend’, who was actually in his late twenties, threatened to blackmail her by sending the pictures to school friends. She became increasingly anxious about the images, frequently breaking down in tears and finally refusing to go to school.

    According to The Marie Collins Foundation, Zara’s words reflect the views of many young people who suffer repeat victimisation in this way.

    Zara said: “It wasn’t so much the physical act of the sexual abuse that made me so upset, it was more the fact that I knew the images were out there and that did things to my head. How I felt about myself, my lack of self-respect, the shame and the humiliation was terrible – as well as that gnawing feeling in my stomach, that anyone I meet could have seen the images of me.”

  • Tara's story

    Tara’s story

    Some people think that just looking at images of children being abused doesn’t actually hurt anyone.

    So it’s important to remember that each image or video features a real child being abused. Not only do they have to live with the memory of the abuse itself, but they also have to live with the knowledge that at anytime, anywhere, people could be looking at images of their abuse.

    Let’s take a real example: Tara (not her real name) was repeatedly abused over a number of years. When she was rescued, US Law enforcement confirmed that they knew of over 70,000 occasions, when images of her had been shared. In the US, victims can also ask to be notified when their ‘files’ (or imagery) are found as part of the police investigation. Tara and her mother have received over 7,500 of these notifications to date.

  • Anna's story

    Anna's story

    Anna was 15 years old when she shared sexual images with her boyfriend via a messaging app. She regretted sending the images and deleted the app from her phone. A few years later, the IWF was contacted by a UK police service that told us Anna’s images were being distributed online. Anna was completely unaware of this and was understandably distressed when finding out her images were shared online.

    One of the main challenges for Anna was to prove that she was under the age of 18 at the time these images were taken, as the law offers protections for children, which it doesn’t for adults. We worked very closely with Anna and her parents and were able to verify her age through, for instance, gathering crucial information on the house the images were taken at. In this case, Anna’s parents could confirm they had not been living in this house for several years.

    We were able to take down Anna’s images, but her story demonstrates both the risks and long-term implications of sharing sexual images with peers.

  • Mark's story

    Mark's story

    Mark was sexually abused by his stepfather when he was still in primary school. He’s grown up now. He has a family of his own. But images of his sexual abuse are still shared online.

    Mark says: “The physical side of the crime is horrible, but it’s the mental side of things that’s so difficult to deal with. I think that’s why suicide rates in victims are so high – they just can’t cope.

    “Even today, my worst fear is that my kids will see those images. I can’t get rid of that feeling.

    “I think it’s really important that victims know that IWF is out there, fighting the battle for them. This gives them peace of mind. Then something can be done, the images can be taken down. That’s so important.”

  • Georgia's story

    Georgia’s story

    Our Analysts work every day with incredibly challenging situations and material. One of them, Kate, spoke about a report we received just before Christmas from a frightened and worried young girl who we’ll call Georgia.

    This isn’t her real name and we’ve changed a few details to protect her identity. Georgia had found the images of herself online.

    Kate said: “The images were very disturbing. They showed the youngster being sexually abused by a much older man. One of the pictures was particularly graphic and I classified it as category A – which is the ‘worst of the worst’ level of abuse.

    “Importantly, because I could legally search for child sexual abuse imagery online, I could track down all the disturbing material. It took me two and a half days to scour the web for more instances of her images. In total, I found 164 URLs. Sadly, the webpages also contained photographs of other children being horribly abused. Some were really, really young.

    “It took two and a half days to get all the images taken down across the world. But I hope the work I did had an important impact for Georgia. I know that our team can’t take the abuse away. The victims we help are real children. They’ve been horribly abused and exploited. Their suffering is very real.

    “But we can remove the online images of their abuse. And for young women like Georgia, we do make a real difference.”

What our Analysts say

Our Analysts remove thousands of images of child sexual abuse from the internet and some offenders don’t like that. So, names have been changed to protect identities, but the words are real.

  • Rebecca

    Rebecca says: "As an Analyst, nothing can truly prepare you for what you’re going to see. Each working day, we see multiple images of children being hideously abused. 

    "These are real children, ordinary children. They go to school, they do their homework, they have friends and families. But something terrible is happening to them in secret and we see their suffering, from newborn babies, right up to teenagers.

    "I try not to think about what’s going on too much, but sometimes it takes your breath away – how could someone do something like that to a baby?

    "This is shocking. There is absolutely no doubt."

  • Shannon

    Shannon says: "We all go through a desensitisation programme and we’re introduced to the images on a graded basis. New Analysts aren’t just thrown in at the deep end and expected to deal with it; we’re given time and emotional support.

    "But if I’m being totally honest, we’re all human and I would say that for every Analyst there will be one victim, one image, that stays with you for longer. For whatever reason, that abuse sticks. We all learn to cope with that.

    "For me, listening to sound, it makes it more real. It seems to hit your emotions if you can hear the child crying, or an adult shouting. It makes it hard to escape the truth."

  • Steve

    Steve says: "Yes, there are three to four images that I’ll carry around with me for a very long time. I wish we didn’t have to do this job, but for now that’s not the case. Our work ranges from the erotic posing of children, through to the most severe abuse – rape and sexual torture.

    "It can be quite distressing for people to see what is horrendous abuse inflicted on innocent and often very young children. The sites we find could contain anything from one to a thousand images of child rape. That’s not easy to handle.

    "But for every abusive image we remove from the internet, that’s one less image of suffering on the web. And we never forget that each image we identify is a crime scene. Our work could and does lead to the rescue of these children."

  • Kate

    Kate says: "Sadly, for the children that aren’t rescued, we sometimes see victims growing up. Their lives play out in front of us, from tiny babies to toddlers, young teens to adults. These are perhaps the most tragic cases and they’re driven by offenders, who demand more and more images of abuse.

    "I suppose that’s why we do what we do. We want to make a difference. We want to stop victims being tormented by the fact that the images and videos of their abuse could be shared, and shared again. We want to help rescue these child victims.

    "As our team manager says, we’re just an ordinary bunch of people – but we’re doing an extraordinary job."

Report here