‘Extreme’ Category A child sexual abuse found online doubles in two years
IWF analysts say ‘insidious’ commercial child sexual abuse sites are driving more and more extreme content online.
- In 2022, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) discovered more Category A child sexual abuse material online than ever before. This material contains the most severe kinds of sexual abuse.
- The amount of webpages containing Category A material found by the IWF has more than doubled since 2020.
- Commercial pages exploiting sexual abuse of children have also doubled since 2020, contributing to increasing levels of “extreme” content.
- Warnings over public safety with people “only one click away” from extreme abuse imagery.
- The charity says more companies than before are now signing up to take services to clean up the internet.
The amount of Category A child sexual material discovered online has doubled since 2020, with newborn babies and toddlers among the victims of the most severe kinds of sexual abuse, new data reveals.
The Internet Watch Foundation’s annual report, published today (April 25) shows that, in 2022, a record-breaking 51,369 of the webpages it took action to remove or block from the internet contained Category A child sexual abuse material.
This is the most severe kind of imagery, and can include the worst kinds of sexual abuse, including the rape of children, babies, and even newborns, as well as acts including bestiality, or sadism.
The amount of this kind of content has doubled since 2020 when the IWF uncovered 25,050 pages containing Category A abuse. The total number of URLs in 2022 containing Category A child sexual abuse material is higher than the IWF has ever seen before.
Proportionally, Category A material now accounts for 20 per cent of all the content the IWF sees – up from 18 per cent in 2021, and 17 per cent in 2020.
The IWF is the UK organisation responsible for tracking down child sexual abuse imagery online. It works alongside industry and law enforcement to make sure this content is swiftly removed from the internet.
Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “We have seen criminals looking to exploit more and more insidious ways to profit from the abuse of children.
“I don’t think I can overstate the harm being done here. These are real children, and the suffering inflicted on them is unimaginable. They are being raped, and subjected to sexual torture, and criminals are making money off the back of that. It is truly appalling.
“Last year, we saw more of the most extreme kind of content online than ever before. Category A imagery can include some of the worst sexual acts being carried out against children.”
The rise in more extreme imagery is in part due to criminal sites looking to commercialise the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
In 2020, the IWF found 12,900 commercial webpages dedicated to the sexual abuse of children. In 2022, this had more than doubled, with 28,933 URLs being identified as commercial child sexual abuse sites.
“Rosa”, a Senior Internet Content Analyst at the IWF*, said: “It is disturbing how matter-of-fact these sites are. Child sexual abuse is treated like a commodity on these sites.”
She added: “People are now only one click away from Category A material. That is a public safety issue. This extreme material is no longer in the creepy corners of the internet. It’s in plain sight.”
These sites are typically not hosted by mainstream hosting companies, instead mainly being found on servers in little-known companies based in Europe or Asia.
The process to get these sites taken down is not easy but the IWF works hard to track them down and have them removed.
The data shows some of the very worst sexual abuse the IWF finds is being perpetrated upon the youngest, most helpless children, with babies and toddlers being subjected to acts including rape and sexual torture.
In 2022, 81 per cent (810 URLs) of URLs containing the sexual abuse of 0-2 year old children contained Category A material. As well as this, 50 per cent of the imagery of 3-6 year olds (5,622 URLs) was deemed to contain Category A material.
In total in 2022, the IWF confirmed 255,570 URLs contained images or videos of children suffering sexual abuse.
The majority (96 per cent or 242,989 instances) of the imagery found shows girls, but there has been a 137 per cent rise in the imagery featuring boys compared to the previous year (2,641 instances in 2021, compared to 6,253 in 2022).
While analysts are finding more criminal content online than ever before, there has also been an upsurge in private companies looking to protect their customers from criminal content online.
The IWF had 181 Members helping them in the fight against online child sexual abuse material at the end of 2022 – a record for IWF.
Earlier this year, Marriott International, Inc. joined the IWF with the goal of blocking websites containing CSAM from guest internet access in its hotels. The collaboration is the first of its kind for the hotel industry. One of the Marriott’s stated aims was to address a “critical human rights issue for the industry”.
Ms Hargreaves added: “In a year where we’re finding more imagery of the most severe types of sexual abuse, we’re also seeing more and more companies from around the world showing their determination to do something about it.
“We’ve had companies operating in sectors we’ve not worked with before. Whether it’s down to the move towards more regulation in parts of the globe, or a genuine desire to make the internet a safer place for all, it’s a positive sign.”
Data from every report the IWF investigates is used in services which are deployed to tech companies under a strict licence in order to stop the upload, sharing and distribution of this imagery.
The IWF also works with companies to disrupt the commercialisation of child sexual abuse material.
The IWF works with some of the giants of the internet world, through to smaller and newer companies within the internet industry.
By working with these companies, the IWF can work to have this harmful material removed from the internet and blocked from being accessed, shared, or uploaded again in the future.
- In 2022, the IWF investigated a total of 375,230 reports suspected to contain child sexual abuse imagery – an increase of 4% on 2021.
- Of these, 255,580 reports were confirmed to contain images or videos of children suffering sexual abuse.
- This compares to 2021, when the IWF investigated 361,060 reports, 252,000 of which were confirmed as containing child sexual abuse imagery.
- In 2022, 199,360 of the URLs the IWF confirmed as child sexual abuse material contained images and videos made and/or shared via an internet connected device with a camera, as opposed to an abuser being physically present in the room with the victim/s. Often, a child has been groomed, coerced and encouraged by someone interacting with the child online. The amount of this material has increased nine per cent compared to 2021.
- Do report images and videos of child sexual abuse to the IWF to be removed. Reports to the IWF are anonymous.
- Do provide the exact URL where child sexual abuse images are located.
- Don’t report other harmful content – you can find details of other agencies to report to on the IWF’s website.
- Do report to the police if you are concerned a child may be in immediate danger.
About the IWF:
We 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 offer a place for the public to report them anonymously. We then have them removed. We’re a not for profit organisation and are supported by the global internet industry.
For more information please visit www.iwf.org.uk
The IWF is part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, working with Childnet International and the South West Grid for Learning to promote the safe and responsible use of technology.
The IWF works globally to stop child sexual abuse imagery on the internet. If you ever stumble across a sexual image or video of someone you think is under 18, please report to the IWF. Reporting can be done anonymously and confidentially – we don’t need your details, just your help.