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A reporting solution for all

Since 1996, the Internet Watch Foundation has been the UK hotline to report images and videos of child sexual abuse so that they can be removed from the internet. Other countries have developed their own hotline, but many nations still don’t have a reporting mechanism to this day. 

Everyone, wherever they live, should have the possibility to act against this terrible crime. That’s why our partners at the IWF have developed the Reporting Portal, a simple, tailored webpage that sends reports from any country directly to their expert analysts in Cambridge, UK. The idea is to offer a low-cost, sustainable solution to countries that might not have the resources to develop a full hotline. 

Since 2013, IWF have launched 46 portals around the world, empowering and enabling over two billion people to anonymously report images and videos of child sexual abuse that they might see online. 

Thanks to a grant from the End Violence Against Children fund (EVAC), IWF will soon have launched 30 portals in low-income countries at no cost to the host nation. Such a grant enables the portal project to be accessible to all, and to safeguard children even in the most deprived regions in the world. 

Under the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that resulted from the health crisis, with traveling curtailed and offices closed, keeping in touch with international partners was not an easy task. Nevertheless, IWF launched 14 new portals in 2020, and already three new ones since January 2021, all covered under the EVAC grant. This demonstrates the international will to ensure children’s safety online and a global awareness of the impact of lockdowns on children’s vulnerability on the internet.

Setting up reporting portals under the COVID pandemic 

The global health crisis unveiled the need for every country to have a dedicated reporting solution for its citizens. Indeed, as the world stayed at home, many more of us – including children – had to rely on the internet to continue working, being educated and socialising. But this was also the case for criminals. Children spending more time on the internet made them more vulnerable to online grooming, coercion and exploitation, which led to a sharp rise in online child sexual abuse, and specifically of self-generated sexual abuse and of abuse of children on siblings and friends, that the IWF saw.

Throughout 2020, they worked harder to launch Reporting Portals across the world in collaboration with partners ranging from government bodies, law enforcement units, to NGOs and the internet industry. With 14 portals launched since March 2020, the year was a record year for new portals.

International collaboration  

Launching reporting portals is one solution to this issue, but it needs to go hand-in-hand with education and awareness-raising campaigns.  

In April 2020, while many of us were working from home, IWF analysts still came into the office and witnessed a 50% surge in reports of suspected child sexual abuse material online compared to the same month in 2019. This showed how important reporting portals were. To ensure citizens knew about the portals, we launched an awareness-raising campaign in collaboration with all our portal partners to promote the reporting mechanisms and guide internet users towards the reporting process.

The campaigns and awareness-learning programme in Zambia and Uganda also show the success of international partnerships on this global fight. The IWF worked with nationally-based marketing agencies on a promotional digital campaign tailored to Zambians and Ugandans, to raise awareness of the threat of online child sexual abuse material. Thanks to our government and NGO partners, the support of IWF members Facebook and telecom giant MTN, as well as influencers Crystal Newman in Uganda and Buumba Malambo in Zambia, the message on child sexual abuse was widely spread. The Facebook page in Zambia is followed by more than 21,000 people, and the one in Uganda, by more than 8,000 people, and they each reached more than 6 million impressions. Some posts reached up to 53,000 people, which means more people know about the campaign and the reporting portal.

As more data and awareness are surfacing on the threat of self-generated child sexual abuse (see talk.iwf.org.uk and gurlsoutloud.com to learn more), and that offenders are finding new ways to reach children and their siblings and friends, even more countries and nations should have access to a reporting mechanism. The IWF already has plans to launch five more portals in the following weeks and months and is looking at reaching more people than ever before in 2021.