Britons are just 'one click away' from child abuse images

Britons are just ‘one click away’ from child abuse images, charity warns, as the quantity of extreme content on the web skyrockets

  • Amount of the most extreme content found has doubled over the past year
  • Websites run by organised gangs are selling images of child sexual abuse

Unsuspecting Britons are just ‘one click away’ from the worst child abuse images online, a charity warns today.

The amount of the most extreme content, classed as ‘Category A’, found on the web has doubled over the past year, now accounting for one in five images the Internet Watch Foundation takes down.

Analysts believe it has been caused by an explosion in websites run by organised gangs that are selling paid-for images of child sexual abuse.

While it was once only found in the darkest corners of the web, criminals are now spamming the material to ordinary internet users to ‘entice’ new customers.

The IWF said it was treating the new tactic as a ‘public safety issue’ after receiving growing numbers of reports from members of the public targeted by such extreme content.

The amount of the most extreme content, classed as ‘Category A’, found on the web has doubled over the past year. File image

The charity’s boss, Susie Hargreaves, said: ‘It is disturbing that criminals are seeing the abuse and rape of children as a way to make money… We have seen criminal sites selling this material proliferate, and we have seen these gangs resorting to more and more devious methods.’ 

The IWF is responsible for tracking down child sexual abuse imagery online and works alongside law enforcement agencies to remove it.

Its annual report, published today, reveals it took action on a record-breaking 51,370 webpages containing Category A material last year – double the 25,000 pages found in 2020.

Category A – which includes the rape and torture of toddlers and newborn babies – now accounts for one in five of all child sexual abuse material it takes down.

Analysts at the charity believe this is largely due to the rise of a new type of illegal website run by criminal gangs that sell child sexual abuse material. 

These sites, which first emerged in July last year, act as a pyramid scheme by promising customers they can ‘unlock’ hidden images and videos if they bring in users. 

Criminals running the sites that sell child sexual abuse material benefit from increased web traffic and additional income

The illegal websites provide them with links and then incentivise them via a ‘points system’ to share the link as widely as possible across social media and chatrooms.

The criminals running the sites benefit from increased web traffic and additional income, with offenders potentially buying further videos of child sexual abuse.

Ms Hargreaves said they were ‘deliberately trying to get people in the UK to unsuspectingly click on links to child sexual abuse videos’, adding: ‘The links are spammed everywhere – anywhere they can paste a link.’

She said: ‘Truly, this extreme material is no longer hidden away in dark corners of the internet.

‘Unsuspecting members of the public could only be a click away from being exposed to some of the most extreme abuse on the internet.

‘It is upsetting to see and can have long-lasting effects on those who see it.’ Former home secretary Sajid Javid said the UK was ‘failing to keep up’ with the epidemic of child sexual abuse and the threat that is posed by predators online.

He said: ‘Criminal gangs are exploiting children on an industrial scale, and often avoiding detection behind computer screens.

‘To push back against this virus, we need tougher sentencing, smarter prevention measures and an uncompromising commitment to child protection across all areas.’

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