More online child sexual abuse imagery is being found online than ever before, and more domain names than ever before are being used to host images and videos of children being sexually abused, according to the 2017 Annual Report from the Internet Watch Foundation.
The number of domain names being used to host the images jumped by 57% over 2016, with 3,791 domains being found this year, compared to 2,416 in 2016, 1,991 in 2015 and 1,694 in 2014. There has been a rise of 124% in four years.
The data is published in the IWF’s Annual Report, which provides a yearly global measure of the number of online images and videos of children being sexually abused to government, the police and the internet industry.
“Our Annual Report is used as a reference and information tool, to give an accurate global picture of online child sexual abuse imagery,” said Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO. I’m incredibly proud that our Hotline has been able to remove more webpages that contain disturbing images of children being abused, than ever before from the internet. We share our analysis of trends with our partners – in government, law enforcement and industry, so that together we can fight this horrific crime.”
The Annual Report also notes a total of 77,082 unique URLs were included on the IWF’s URL list, a 44% increase on 53,552 included in 2016.
Europe was found to be the worst offender for hosting. Europe now hosts 65% of all confirmed IWF child sexual abuse imagery. This is up from 60% last year. The top hosting countries of child sexual abuse URLs are the Netherlands, USA, Canada, France and Russia. The Netherlands now hosts 36% of child sexual abuse content, down from 37% last year, while North America has decreased by more than 4% from 22% to 18%. Overall, 87% of all child sexual abuse URLs identified globally in 2017 were hosted in just these top five countries.
In 2017, the IWF took action against 5,002 URLs on websites using new generic top level domains (gTLDs). These URLs were located across 1,063 different domains and 50 different new gTLDs. In 2016, action was taken to remove 1,559 URLs from websites using new gTLDs, a 221% rise.
In 2017, IWF Analysts assessed a webpage every four minutes. Every 7 minutes, that webpage showed a child being sexually abused. In 2016, Analysts saw a child being sexually abused every 9 minutes. In total, 80,318 reports of confirmed child sexual abuse were processed by the IWF, up from 59,548 in 2016. This was overall a 35% increase. This figure includes URLs and newsgroups.
There was also an unprecedented increase in disguised website abuse. The IWF saw a 86% rise in use of disguised websites, from 1,572 in 2016 to 2,909 in 2017. This implicates increased intelligence among offenders, who may be going to new lengths to evade detection.
“We are now receiving more reports of child sexual abuse content than ever before,” said Hargreaves. “This year we’re seeing offenders getting smarter and finding new ways to abuse legitimate internet services. Our trends analysis tracks this development. It’s concerning that offenders appear to be increasingly using concealed digital pathways to prevent law enforcement and hotlines around the world detecting these criminal websites. We are making huge technological advances, which we’ll be announcing later in the year, but we also need to continue to work globally, in partnership, to fight this disturbing crime. This battle cannot be won in isolation.
“The child victims of sexual abuse online are revictimised again and again, every time their picture is shared. The experience they go through at such a young age is unimaginably horrific, and they frequently take this pain into adulthood with them. That’s why at the IWF we fight every day to make sure these images and videos are removed from the internet, so that victims are no longer forced to live with the torment of others seeing the images of their abuse online.
“While I’m so proud of our Hotline for the sheer number of child sexual abuse URLs they’re removing online, these figures show what a vast amount of content is out there. Sadly, this could just be the tip of the iceberg.”