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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Online child abuse complaints up
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More than 3,000 websites were reported to the IWF
Reports of websites that contain images of child abuse have continued to climb in the last year, a report has shown.

In 2006, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) investigated more than 31,000 reports of sites that contained alleged images, an increase of 34% since 2005.

More than 10,000 of the reported pages on more than 3,000 websites were found to contain illegal child abuse content.

The increase was in part due to greater awareness of the IWF and its reporting procedures, the organisation said.

As well as outlining the numbers of web pages and sites containing images, the IWF annual report also revealed the increasing severity of content held on the sites.

More than 3,000 web pages contained images depicting the most severe abuse, such as penetrative and sadistic sexual activity, the report said. Most children involved were under the age of 12.

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"The images we are seeing are predominantly prepubescent, young children," said Peter Robbins, chief executive of the IWF.

"They have no choice. There is no consent - they are being raped."

Nearly 1,000 commercial child abuse websites were found to sell child rape images, predominantly of young girls.

Long-lived

The report also highlighted how paedophiles had become more tech-savvy in attempts to avoid detection.

Some commercial child abuse websites, run by organised criminal gangs, break up images on to several servers around the world. The fragments are only united when a paedophile downloads an image.

IWF REPORT: KEY FACTS
31,776 reports processed
10,656 pages contained child abuse content
3,077 websites contained all of the images
1,667 were commercial websites
10.5% of all pages were on photo sharing websites
91% of victims appear to be under 12 years old

Other websites only appear on the web for a short period of time, or move servers regularly to countries with different legal jurisdictions.

This technique means that police forces never have enough time to gather the required evidence to take down a site. For example, one has been reported to the IWF 224 times since 2002.

The report also revealed how photo sharing websites are also being exploited to trade and view images.

More than 10% of the reported pages were of this type, it said.

"No one pretends that the companies involved with this know it's going on," said Mr Robbins.

"When we draw their attention to the folders, they are quick to remove them."

Worst offenders

The IWF also highlighted which countries appeared to be the worst offenders for hosting child abuse content.

Nearly 55% of all reported websites were hosted in the US whilst Russia contained just over 28%, the report said.

We exist to try to access the content and get it removed
Peter Robbins

Mr Robbins said that the US was the worst offender, principally because of access to technology and its geography.

"Given their size, it's inevitable that they come high on our radar," he said.

The UK has virtually stamped out hosting of illegal online child abuse content, the IWF said.

"The IWF has made dramatic and continued progress in tackling the availability of illegal images of child abuse," said Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker.

"[It] has made a significant and on-going contribution to the eradication of exploitation sites hosted in the UK, and the prevention of access to sites hosted abroad."

Any sites reported to the IWF that are hosted in the UK are removed within 48 hours by UK ISPs.

Anonymous tips

Many of the 31, 776 reports made to the IWF in 2006 came through its "hotline" website.

Most reports were of commercial websites, as people looking for pornography or clicking on links in spam emails were more likely to stumble across these, said Mr Robbins.

He urged anybody that came across potentially illegal content to report it immediately and offered reassurance that users could report any content anonymously.

"We exist to try to access the content and get it removed," he said.

The IWF is funded by the EU and UK internet industry, including ISPs, mobile operators, internet search providers and telecommunications and software companies.


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