I think it’s amazing that I can do this job. Everyone would agree that at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) we’re doing important work every day. Even if we don’t find the victim, we’re removing hundreds, if not thousands, of images that would otherwise still be online. That’s the bulk of what we do, remove images that are re-uploaded. The victims try and get on with their lives, but images of when they were abused as children could recirculate on the internet. If we can remove these images that stops the victims being harmed over and over again by just knowing their image or video could be looked at any time by anyone online.
My job is to analyse images and videos of children under 18 being sexually abused online. A lot of people think this is a tough job but I do it because I can make real difference to children. Every day.
When I was in the military as an analyst, I’d view images that were extremely sensitive. Casualties, wounds, bomb craters. I’d go home at the end of the day and I’d wonder if I’d done any good. Wasn't that what I joined up to do - to make a difference? Now, as an analyst at the IWF, I know that my work is making a life-changing difference to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
After 23 years in the military, I felt I'd done my time. It was my wife who actually saw the job advert for the IWF and it interested me immediately. My professional experience looking at difficult imagery and dealing with difficult subject matters helped. It meant I knew I could do it. I now help rid the internet of indecent images of children.
My job is to identify potentially dangerous situations which involve dealing with sexual online imagery of children. These are real children - boys and girls - aged under 18 who are being subjected to sexual abuse. As an analyst you learn to be resilient in this line of work. When you look at the images and see so many horrible things, you can’t be too affected by it. You need to be able to get on with the job at hand and put it to one side. But as a human being you also really need to have empathy for the victims and you want to do the right thing.
Having kids really reinforced this for me. The team here want to do everything in their power to get children out of these awful situations. They're so vulnerable when they're sitting there on the iPad or on the computer. That was one of the reasons for me taking this job; I thought I could do something to protect children.
Each image we receive is a chance to help these victims. On a Monday we have around 400 new reports and some of these will have come from ordinary young guys who have seen something worrying on mainstream sites. Each report could be an image or a website full of images or a video. On a typical day, our primary focus would be the reports coming in from the public as anyone can do this anonymously. I feel this is something important to stress - how a simple, anonymous report of an image or link can help save someone from a lifetime of online sexual abuse. Once this information comes to me I have to figure out: is this someone under 18 and therefore, a child, and are they being sexually abused?
At the moment we've seen a rise of young girls and boys sat in their bedrooms, live streaming in front of their webcams. These videos are being copied or captured, sometimes without the girl or boy realising what is happening or who it will end up being shared with. As soon as we’re aware of the imagery we identify it and report it to police. We can get the image or video taken down, sometimes within minutes.
I vividly remember the first time I was able to help save a child from further abuse. When a link comes in, then it's my job to first identify if the person is aged under 18. In this instance, I was quickly able to assess that the girl in the image was underage. I hadn’t seen the video before so I asked some of the other analysts over to see if they’d seen it, whether it was new or something we’d already actioned. Nobody else had seen this particular video so it meant straight away this could be a potential UK victim.
We sent it through to the Child Exploitation Online Protection Command (CEOP) and the police and gave them as much information as we could. Within two days they called me and said they’d found the girl. She'd been saved. It felt like we had reached into the screen and pulled her out of the abusive environment she was in. I bet the lad who reported the image doesn't realise what a difference he made.
Reporting these images can change lives.