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PIER is partner in global child protection project

Published: 11 October 2022 at 14:00

A UK police car on a road at night

ARU researchers will work with Child Rescue Coalition to study online chat rooms

The Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER), a research institute at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), has joined with US-based non-profit organisation Child Rescue Coalition (CRC) to launch a new initiative to improve the worldwide response to the threat of online child sexual abuse.

CRC has received funding from online platform OnlyFans to launch project APOLLO, which aims to better understand the behaviour of online offenders, to help develop tools to protect children and support law enforcement investigations globally.

For the first time, academics at PIER will be able to use data secured by CRC from online chat rooms, to analyse conversations between offenders with a sexual interest in children. This will deepen understanding of the drivers and motives of offenders, how and where they interact, how they abuse and how they avoid detection.

Research from APOLLO will not only provide valuable insights for online platforms and regulators regarding the technology used to carry out the sexual abuse of children but will also help law enforcement organisations prioritise their investigations.

Simon Bailey, Chair of the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region, former National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection and Director of Strategic Engagement at CRC, says this initiative will help researchers formulate and deliver critical insights to policymakers, regulators, and law enforcement officials around the world who fight against child sexual abuse.

He said:

“The internet has given rise to offending and abuse that 20 years ago would have been unimaginable, and the development of end-to-end encryption and the Metaverse is only going to make matters worse. Never has the threat of sexual abuse to children been so great.

“Now, thanks to funding from online platform OnlyFans, we are lifting the cloak of secrecy that offenders hide behind. For the first time ever, we’re allowing academia to study online chat groups, where people with a sexual interest in children are meeting to discuss child sexual abuse and share child sexual abuse material.”

CRC is a non-profit organisation that builds technology for law enforcement around the world to track, arrest and prosecute child sex offenders. During the project, CRC will be collaborating with PIER, which for the last five years has worked with law enforcement and key stakeholders to improve the policing and public protection response to the online threat of child sexual abuse.

Professor Sam Lundrigan, Director of PIER, says that the academic community has a critical role to play in child protection.

Professor Lundrigan said:

“This innovative technology will enable our best and brightest academic minds to better understand behaviors linked to those committing these devastating crimes. Through our groundbreaking partnership, we will lead the way in cutting-edge research with real world impact.

“We’ve never had access to this kind of data before. Project Apollo will therefore enable us to gather and share insights to share with our partners so that they are better equipped to protect children from online sexual abuse, exploitation, and harm.”

OnlyFans, the subscription social media platform which enables connections between creators and their fans, is providing a grant for $500,000 to CRC to help support the development of the APOLLO technology to combat the distribution of child sexual abuse material.

CRC’s powerful technology has been provided free of charge to law enforcement across 97 countries. Because of CRC’s tools, law enforcement has rescued thousands of children from sexual exploitation and abuse and arrested thousands of child sex offenders, often including those in positions of trust.

According to Carly Yoost, CEO and founder of Child Rescue Coalition, expanding the non-profit’s reach to include participation in research is crucial to their mission. Yoost said:

“Having our data available for researchers is extremely exciting because our law enforcement partners will benefit from key insights into child sex abusers. This next evolution will continue to allow us to make a difference.”

OnlyFans Chief Strategy & Operation Officer, Keily Blair, said:

“OnlyFans is committed to building the safest 18s and over digital media platform in the world. By implementing industry-leading safety controls and robust content moderation, OnlyFans is an exemplary leader on the types of measures sites can enact to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation online.

“Our goal is not just to prevent minors from accessing any unsuitable content online but also to work proactively with law enforcement, NGOs, and academia to combat child sexual exploitation wherever it occurs.”

For more information about Child Rescue Coalition, visit www.childrescuecoalition.org.