Calls to online child sexual abuse watchdog up 45% in September

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty</span>
Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

A hotline for reporting suspected child abuse material online had a record month in September, with calls increasing 45%, driven by the shift to working from home and more time spent online, an internet watchdog has said.

The UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which identifies child sexual abuse content online, said it processed 15,258 reports from the public in September 2020, a record for the charity and up from 10,514 in September 2019.

Analysts at the IWF’s hotline assess the reports so criminal material can be quickly removed from the internet.

In 2020, up to September the IWF processed a total of 230,520 reports, including tip-offs from members of the public, the police, and internet providers. In the whole of 2019, itself a record year, IWF analysts processed 260,400 reports.

Related: Coronavirus lockdown raises risk of online child abuse, charity says

The IWF’s hotline director, Chris Hughes, said: “More people spending longer at home, and more people being more active online may mean more people are spotting criminal content and calling it out.”

However, Hughes said some of the analysts’ time was being taken up dealing with reports of material that was not in the IWF’s remit, such as potentially provocative slogans on children’s clothing or reports of legal adult pornography.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, said the coronavirus pandemic has made this a particularly busy year for the IWF.

She said: “Our trained analysts view and assess some of the worst material on the internet, and this year we have had to adapt so they can keep coming to work safely. These numbers suggest people are being vigilant about what they see online, and are standing up to make the digital world a safer place to live and work in.

“This year has not been easy, but our team is so motivated, and know finding and removing these images is an important step in keeping the internet safe, and protecting children from harm.”

A extensive welfare package was in place to look after the analysts’ mental health while performing their role, the IWF added.

The figures come after law enforcement and child protection organisations warned that paedophiles were taking advantage of the pandemic to search for and carry out abuse online.

During the pandemic tech firms had reduced the number of moderators tackling sexual abuse, giving offenders an “unprecedented opportunity” to target children who were spending more time online, they said.