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    Photo of Susie Hargreaves

    Welcome from our CEO

    Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive Officer of IWF

    Tackling online child sexual abuse has never felt more in the spotlight.

    We’re all grappling with new and changing technologies and shifting behaviours of criminals online who seek to create and distribute child sexual abuse imagery, often for monetary gain.

    It’s heart-breaking to reveal, again, that in 2022 we’ve seen increases in the number of reports which include images and videos of the sexual abuse of children aged 7-10. And that sexual imagery created of children when they are online, often in the supposed ‘safe spaces’ of their bedrooms, now accounts for almost four in every five reports.

    This is my 12th year leading the IWF and I am immensely proud of everything we have achieved and how we have grown to enable us to tackle the problem, but there’s absolutely no satisfaction in knowing that we are seeing more and more children being abused and that they are getting younger.

    At the IWF we’ve always been careful not to describe in detail what we see as we don’t want to upset people, but we’re starting to believe that we have to be upfront and honest about the extent of the abuse we find, as the public needs to realise that we are talking about seven year olds, naked, inserting items into their vaginas under the direction and coercion of nasty, manipulative individuals. The children are totally unaware that this has been recorded and will be shared time and time again on the internet by their abusers. And the truth is that it can affect any child from any background as all young children left unsupervised with a camera-enabled device and an internet connection are at risk.

    This is why we need to do everything we can as a society to work with partners across the world to stop the abuse happening in the first place.

    We believe that this is possible and can be achieved by having three fundamental pillars in place: (i) proper legislation and well-resourced law enforcement, (ii) tech companies doing everything possible to prevent the upload and distribution of images so they can’t be shared and (iii) a programme of education and awareness raising for both children and parents/carers so that they understand the dangers and how to keep themselves and their children safe online.

    But we won’t get there if we don’t work together and put the needs of children first. This is why we are standing in solidarity with our child protection partners to oppose the introduction of end-to-end encryption on platforms without there being the necessary technically-possible child safeguards in place.

    Likewise, we have been working closely with colleagues across the UK Government to ensure that the Online Safety Bill does what it sets out to do and makes the UK a safer space to be online and as part of that, protect the critical work of the IWF, as without us it will be children who will suffer.

    Empowering children, and those who care for them, is an absolute priority, and after the first full year of operating Report Remove with our NSPCC partners, we’ve seen how boys, many aged 16-17, are most often reporting sexual images of themselves to us. Cases of sexually coerced extortion are rising among this group, as criminals seek to extort money from their victims. Report Remove is clearly needed by young people and it has immense potential to be replicated in other countries.

    The work of the IWF is a team effort and every single member of staff, regardless of their role, plays their part and always goes the extra mile to do whatever they can to stop these images being circulated. That’s because they know that every image is a real child who has been abused in the most horrific way.

    We won’t stop until every single image has been removed from the internet because children need to know we are out there fighting their corner.