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PIER joins forces with Internet Watch Foundation

Published: 7 December 2022 at 14:00

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New project aims to tackle growing issue of ‘self-generated’ sexual imagery of children

The Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) is partnering with the Cambridge-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to prevent children falling victim to predatory groomers online. 

PIER and IWF have started a 26 month project to “Improve prevention strategies for ‘self-generated’ child sexual abuse material”.

PIER is an applied research institute, which for the last five years has worked with police and public protection partners to improve responses to the online threat of child sexual abuse.

The IWF is the UK hotline dedicated to finding and removing child sexual abuse material from the internet. 

The project, which has been funded by the Oak Foundation, will develop an evidence-based prevention campaign that will reduce the number of new “self-generated” child sexual abuse images and videos on the internet.

These videos and images are created after a child has been tricked or manipulated by an adult predator online into performing sexually over a webcam enabled device. 

In 2021 the IWF took action to remove a record-breaking 252,000 URLs which it confirmed contained images or videos of children being raped and/or suffering sexual abuse.

Of these, 182,281 URLs contained images or videos of “self-generated” material. This is a 374% increase on pre-pandemic levels when, in 2019, analysts took action to remove 38,424 URLs containing self-generated material.

To understand the phenomenon, researchers at PIER will reach out to understand the perspectives of children and young people, parents, caregivers, and educators, as well as perpetrators themselves. 

The knowledge created through this project will help encourage conversations, awareness and understanding of this growing risk, and will also be used to influence and inform policy and practice for future prevention efforts.

PIER was commissioned by the UK Home Office in 2021 to conduct a secondary analysis of IWF survey data to produce insights into both parents' and children’s awareness, understanding and behaviour in relation to ‘self-generated’ indecent imagery. 

Now, PIER’s academics will further and deepen the analysis of this topic, identifying gaps in knowledge, and consulting with young people, care givers and perpetrators.

Professor Sam Lundrigan, Director at PIER said:

“This is a really important project that will provide data as the basis for how we approach work to stop this incredibly harmful form of child abuse.

“The statistics from IWF show just how prevalent self-generated imagery has become online and we need to do everything we can to turn the tide on this. The analysis we have already carried out has given valuable insights to IWF to inform their awareness campaigns. Now, we hope that the next phase of our research and analysis will provide the information we need to better equip young people, their families and caregivers with an understanding of how young people can prevent themselves becoming involved in this type of online abuse.”

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said:

“When we first identified that children were being approached, groomed and abused in this way, many people did not want to believe us.

“The horror that children, in any environment, in any home, could fall victim to these voracious sex predators and be made to abuse themselves, siblings, and friends in the most serious ways, was just too frightening to consider.

“But this is the reality, and it’s one we all must be awake to. This new project will throw a spotlight on the issue and really help us delve into what is driving this kind of abuse. The findings will be invaluable in turning the tide on this kind of offending and making sure children, and their parents and carers, can be protected from this insidious threat.”