In the UK and throughout the world, online child sexual abuse (CSA), including the making, viewing and sharing sexual images of children as well as online child sexual grooming, is a major and growing problem. In 2022 alone, the Internet Watch Foundation reported that it found 255,588 online links containing child sexual abuse imagery globally, having links to the imagery, or advertising it, up 1% on 2021.
Children are harmed when these images are made, with further damage from the repeated viewing of images. However, the scale of this kind of online offending is now so great that law enforcement cannot solve the problem alone and instead – we require a whole system response, which includes interventions targeted at prevention.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is the only UK-wide charity dedicated solely to tackling CSA and exploitation. For 30 years it has used its wealth of child sexual abuse knowledge – including understanding of abuser behaviour and prevention theory and practice – to deliver targeted, evidence-based interventions that help keep children safe and prevent offending.
To further its pioneering work, Nominet has funded The Lucy Faithfull Foundation to develop and deliver a programme that aims to stop people from viewing sexual images and videos of children online. The charity will receive £930,000 over three years to use behavioural science, partnerships, and innovation to rollout effective online warnings across the internet to prevent this illegal behaviour.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation has already pioneered the use of warning messages presented to people who are searching for sexual images of children online. These warnings clearly state that such behaviour is illegal, causes harm to children, and has huge consequences for the viewer and their own loved ones.
The funding from Nominet provides an opportunity to further build on this experience and momentum to design impactful approaches to deterring potential perpetrators of abuse. With Nominet’s support, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation will be able to test and iterate warning messages and pilot new approaches, generating the evidence needed to scale up this form of intervention. And it will work in partnership with technology companies, researchers and law enforcement agencies to further test and improve the effectiveness of the warning messages, and to implement them in more online spaces.
Deborah Denis, CEO of The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said:
“The scale of online offending means that society needs to continually evolve the tools and techniques it uses to prevent harm to children. And that’s exactly what this project will help us to do. We want to achieve the change for child protection that’s been needed for a long time. It has been too easy to offend online for too long and all opportunities for intervention need to be taken
“This project will be a game-changer. It will make the internet a hostile place that confronts people who are offending or at risk of doing so with the reality of what they are doing. Through a process of systemic innovation, we will be able to roll out gold standard warnings across the internet, so that this approach becomes the norm rather than the exception. We will divert people from their course of action, rather than allowing them to progress on their pathway unimpeded.”
Paul Fletcher, CEO of Nominet, commented:
“We’ve got a great deal of experience in granting funds to initiatives that equip children with the skills they need to stay safe online, but it’s not morally acceptable to place the onus on children alone to avoid the perpetrators of abuse. And so, we’re stepping into a new area to fund this innovative programme. The Internet should never be a safe place for those seeking to abuse children, and that’s why we’re proud to be supporting the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s pioneering work in this space.”