International news

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has sounded the alarm, branding the European Union a "toxic warehouse" for hosting child sexual abuse material and urging Finnish lawmakers to take swift action against this disturbing trend. Criminal gangs have found a haven in EU member states, where they host abhorrent criminal imagery of children enduring sexual abuse, rape, and torture.

New data released by the IWF today reveals a troubling 26% increase in the hosting of child sexual abuse material within the EU this year compared to the same period last year. Finland, in particular, has experienced a shocking 35% increase during this period. The IWF warns that it only takes a few rogue image hosts for this dangerous content to establish a foothold.

The data also highlights a startling 54% surge in the most extreme forms of child sexual abuse material, classified as Category A material. This category includes depictions of rape, bestiality, sadism, and sexual torture. Between January 1 and August 25 of this year, the IWF identified a staggering 101,988 webpages hosting child sexual abuse material within EU member states, a sharp increase from the 80,977 pages discovered during the same period in 2022.

Out of the webpages identified this year, 21,651 contained Category A material, marking a concerning 54% rise compared to the same period last year when 14,094 such webpages were found.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, strongly urged EU lawmakers to address this worsening situation promptly and lend their support to forthcoming legislation aimed at curbing the spread of online child sexual abuse material. She stated, "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."

Hargreaves continued, "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 European Union has consistently ranked high on the IWF's list of the worst places for hosting child sexual abuse material, with the Netherlands notably singled out for its hosting of criminal imagery. In 2023 alone, the IWF confirmed the presence of 75,251 webpages hosting such content in the Netherlands, a staggering 107% increase compared to the same period in 2022.

Even countries not previously associated with hosting such material are witnessing alarming escalations. Germany has seen a 150% increase in the hosting of child sexual abuse material, with 9,862 URLs detected between January 1, 2023, and August 25, compared to 3,944 during the same period in 2022. Estonia's situation is even more distressing, with a shocking 4,000% increase in hosted material, rising from only four webpages during the same period in 2022 to 164 in 2023.

Ms. Hargreaves emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, "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."

The IWF encourages the public to report any child sexual abuse images or videos anonymously on their website, providing the exact URL where the material is located. Additionally, immediate concerns for a child's safety should be reported to the police. The organization also advises against repetitive reporting of the same URL to avoid wasting analysts' time.