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Commercial child abuse websites growing

Thirty per cent growth

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The number of websites making money by selling pictures and videos of children being sexually abused is continuing to grow.

There was a 34 per cent increase in reports made to the Internet Watch Foundation's (IWF) hotline - 31,776 reports in 2006. These reports led to confirmation that 10,656 URLs on 3,077 websites contained images of illegal child abuse. A majority (82.5 per cent) of sites were hosted in Russia or the US, up from 67.9 per cent in 2005.

IWF chief executive Peter Robbins said: "The increase in reports processed by our 'Hotline' team is due in part to the increased awareness of our organisation, but also to the identification of a growing trend in the use of remote image storage facilities. The UK has virtually eradicated the hosting of potentially illegal online child abuse content within its virtual borders."

Less than one per cent of reported websites are hosted in the UK.

There has been a four-fold increase in images depicting the most severe penetrative and sadistic sexual abuse. The IWF has a five point scale for images. Four is penetrative sexual activity between adults and children and five is sadism or penetration of or by an animal.

Getting such sites closed is difficult because sites often switch servers to different countries or have the images hosted on a remote server. One website has been reported to the IWF 224 times since 2002. Another website has been reported 54 times since 2000 and has been found on seven different servers in different countries in that time. Many sites stay live for long periods. Ninety-four websites reported in 2006 also operated in 2005, and 33 of those were also live in 2004, with 32 functioning before that.

The IWF report also noted an increase in the use of photo sharing websites. In 2004 the IWF had no reports of abusive images being posted on photo sharing sites, but in 2006 such websites made up 10.6 per cent of reports.

During 2006 the IWF provided police with information which led to four arrests and statements for 11 other investigations, while another 42 reports are still being investigated.

The report is available from the IWF here. ®

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