EU a ‘toxic warehouse’ of child sexual abuse imagery, warns IWF

The most extreme child sexual abuse imagery hosted in the EU is “spiralling out of control”, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

Sep 18, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Picture: IWF

It is urging lawmakers to clamp down on criminals using the continent as a “toxic warehouse for dangerous criminal material”.

The IWF is warning that “ruthless” criminal gangs are exploiting EU member states as “safe havens” to host abhorrent criminal imagery of children suffering sexual abuse, rape and torture.

New data published by the IWF shows EU hosting of child sexual abuse material has increased by 26 per cent so far this year compared with the same period last year.

The data also shows that the most extreme kinds of child sexual abuse, which can include rape, bestiality and sadism, (known in the UK as Category A material) being hosted in the EU has risen 54 per cent compared with 2022.

Between January 1 and August 25 this year, the IWF identified 101,988 webpages containing child sexual abuse material that were hosted on servers in EU countries.

It says each webpage may contain thousands of images or videos of children being abused.

This compares to 80,977 pages in the same period in 2022 – a 26 per cent increase.

Of all the webpages the IWF discovered so far this year, 21,651 contained Category A material, depicting the most extreme forms of child sexual abuse.

This is a 54 per cent increase on the same period in 2022 – when 14,094 webpages contained Category A material.

The IWF is now calling on EU lawmakers to “get a grip” on the worsening situation, and support forthcoming legislation to tackle the spread of online child sexual abuse material.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, chief executive of the IWF, said: “If these were warehouses full of drugs, or weapons, there would be instant action to rid countries of these ruthless criminal gangs.

“It should be no different with child sexual abuse material. Criminals are looking to where they can store their evil and exploitative imagery, and they see the EU as a safe haven. The situation risks spiralling out of control.

“These gangsters are turning the continent into a toxic warehouse for this dangerous criminal content.

“The EU must now pass vital legislation to prevent the spread of child sexual abuse material. Failing to do so will only ensure the situation continues to worsen, and will send a clear message to criminals and abusers that the EU is a safe place for them to operate.

“This must not be allowed to happen.”

The EU regularly tops the IWF’s list of the worst places for the hosting of this material. The Netherlands in particular has become known for hosting criminal imagery.

So far in 2023, the IWF has confirmed 75,251 webpages hosted in the Netherlands that harbour child sexual abuse imagery. This is a 107 per cent increase on the 36,323 webpages identified in the same period in 2022.

The IWF has warned that even countries which have not historically had issues with criminal hosting of imagery are finding themselves facing worsening situations.

Germany has seen a 150 per cent increase in hosting of child sexual abuse material (9,862 URLs detected from January 1 to August 25, 2023, compared with 3,944 in the same period in 2022).

Estonia has seen a 4,000 per cent increase in the amount of child sexual abuse being hosted – with 164 webpages being traced to the country compared with only four during the same period in 2022.

Ms Hargreaves added: “Countries need to know that all it takes is a couple of bad image hosts to wash up on their shores. That’s all they need to take root – and soon they will be the destination of choice.

“There is no room for complacency. We must stamp this out now and send a strong message.”

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