IWF Study Finds Sexting Images Stolen and Made Public
A study by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) shows that 88% of self-generated, sexually explicit online images and videos of young people are taken from their original location and uploaded onto other websites.
The study aimed to establish firstly a snapshot of how many self-generated, sexually explicit images and videos (frequently known as ‘sexting’ images) of young people there are online; and then how much of this content was copied from its original source and put on other websites.
In less than 48 working hours,IWF analysts encounteredmore than 12,000 such images and videos spread over 68 websites.
Most of the images and videos (88%) appeared on ‘parasite websites’, meaning they were taken from the original area where they were uploaded and made public on other websites.
These parasite websites had often been created for the sole purpose of offering sexually explicit images and videos of young people and therefore contained large amounts of sexually explicit content.
The scale of this is shocking. And these anonymous extracts from young people asking to do something about their online images and videos are pitiful:
“One explicit image I took when I was young but I cannot be specific to if I was 15 or 16 because it was long ago, and I never posted it to the internet…It is coming up on the first page of [a search engine] also if my name is searched and on [a search engine] images for my name which could jeopardize any future career I have or if any family/friends come across it.”
“I came to regret posting photographs of myself naively on the internet and tried to forget about it, but strangers recognized me from the photographs and made lewd remarks at school. I endured so much bullying because of this photograph and the others…I was eventually admitted for severe depression and was treated for a suicide attempt.”
“…the photos were on a phone that was stolen around 2 years ago…the photos were taken when i was under 17 years old.”
“I’m an individual who was coerced into posing for this site at the age of 16, and have regretted this ever since…My parents would be horrified…I have suffered badly from depression, and every time I begin to feel good and confident about myself …I just remember these pictures and what I did.”
Even the IWF seems shocked by the scale of their findings:
Sarah Smith, an IWF Technical Researcher said: “During the course of our work we encounter large quantities of self-generated sexual content which has been copied from its original location and then uploaded elsewhere to form collections, but this is the first time we’ve been able to demonstrate the extent to which this occurs.”
Susie Hargreaves, the CEO, commented: “This research gives an unsettling indication of the number of images and videos on the internet featuring young people performing sexually explicit acts or posing. It also highlights the problem of control of these images – once an image has been copied onto a parasite website, it will no longer suffice to simply remove the image from the online account. We need young people to realise that once an image or a video has gone online, they may never be able to remove it entirely.”
The findings from this study will inform the work of the UK Safer Internet Centre – a partnership between the IWF, Childnet and the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) aiming to empower and support children and young people to use the Internet safely.
What can you do to help? Two things:
- Talk to the the young people in your life about this. Work with their schools to help spread the message.
- Report content – anonymously if you wish – wherever you see it.
If you’d like to know more about work in the UK on child internet safety:
Childnet and the SWGfL have developed two resources to help raise awareness of the potential consequences of sharing sexually explicit images and videos (known as sexting) and to provide advice and guidance on how to support children and young people who have shared such images.
The UK Safer Internet Centre is a partnership of three organisations, Childnet International, the South West Grid for Learning and the Internet Watch Foundation. Its main functions are awareness raising, education and the provision of a Helpline and a Hotline.
About the Internet Watch Foundation
Today is Internet Watch Foundation Awareness Day, and eModeration is proud to be member and a supporter of the IWF. The IWF was established in 1996 by the internet industry to provide the UK internet Hotline to report content within their remit:
- child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world;
- criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK;
- non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.