In an ordinary room in an ordinary office in Cambridgeshire, five people do an extraordinary job. Marie, Janet, Sarah, Sally and Charlotte are Internet Content Analysts. They assess public reports of child sexual abuse webpages and work with industry to ensure these sites are removed. Reports are also shared with police which has helped trace and rescue victims.
The Internet Content Analysts are unique in the United Kingdom. It is a criminal offence for you to view child sexual abuse images or videos so, alongside five senior managers who are on hand to provide secondary assessments, they are the only civilians in the United Kingdom legally allowed to view this criminal material.
When I talk or blog about child sexual abuse online I am very aware that it is a difficult and unsettling topic for many people. It should be. When I last blogged for the Huffington Post my post included staggering stats on the nature and scale of the phenomenon. So why would you want to want to sit at a screen 9-5, Monday to Friday, viewing these websites? Our newest Analyst Sally revealed she was repeatedly asked this by friends and colleagues as she prepared to join the IWF in September.
"Well," she replied, "this content is on the internet whether I like it or not - at least this way I know something is being done to remove it." Speaking recently to BBC local radio Sarah echoed this view. She told a reporter how "extremely distressing" it was to see such crimes on a daily basis, but in the back of her mind she knew she was making a difference and that provided her motivation.
Any Analyst will tell you the biggest reward is hearing that the content they've shared with our law enforcement partners has resulted in the tracing and rescuing of a victim of abuse. Five children in the UK have been rescued since 2010 as a result of intelligence shared with our partners in the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre. Hearing that our intelligence has contributed to the safeguarding of a child not only creates a huge buzz around the whole office, it also means when the content is recycled and reported again the Analyst knows that child is safe and secure.
So what's it like working in an organisation with these Analysts? There is an admirable spirit that shines through the team and support is the key word. Support comes both formally, in regular counselling sessions, and informally from the rest of the IWF team. The most peculiar form of support is through music; bad music to be precise. There is genuine competition between the Analysts to bring in the worst CD they own to play to the office. I won't reveal any of the artists here because as much as I'm assured musical taste is entirely subjective, there is some real cheese in there.
You may think it flippant of me to mention this but I want to emphasise the personality of the people who day in, day out look at some of the worst crimes imaginable. Theirs isn't a job that's easy to talk about down the pub on a Friday night but what they do is absolutely essential. It requires supreme attention to detail and a determination to stay committed to the very end of the removal process. It is thanks to this commitment that content is removed in the UK within hours and in 2010 we halved the time it took to remove content hosted abroad to an average of just 12 days. To achieve success in the global fight against online child sexual abuse content we need individuals with such perseverance.
The IWF marked its 15th anniversary last month and there were lots of people to thank. Our founders who had the vision to create the IWF; our members who fund our work and the stakeholders, parliamentarians and government ministers who have provided support for the IWF since 1996. But the Analysts deserve a special thank you. They look at this content so you don't have to.
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The Internet Watch Foundation is the UK Hotline to report criminal online content in a secure and confidential way. Our remit covers:
Child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world;
Criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK;
Non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.
Reports can be made at www.iwf.org.uk.
Reports can be made anonymously and may help to trace and rescue a victim of sexual abuse.
To be kept updated with IWF news throughout the year you can like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/internetwatchfoundation