"It’s my job to get pictures of children being sexually abused taken off the web."
Anna’s* job at the Internet Watch Foundation is difficult, harrowing and deeply satisfying. She describes how she got into this field, what her day involves and why the work of the IWF is more vital today than ever.
Anna will be returning to the thread and answering any questions that come up about her guest post in the comments below.
* Name changed for anonymity
Internet Watch Foundation
Posted on: Thu 01-Nov-18 16:57:53
(5 comments )
At the hairdresser’s recently, I was asked what I do for a living. The stylist was taken aback when I said that it’s my job to track down online pictures of children being sexually abused and get them taken off the web.
It’s a lot easier to simply say I work for a child-protection charity. I’ve been at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) for almost a decade. It’s an incredible job. Ten years ago, I would never have imagined that I’d spend my working days in a secure room, looking at images which, in a better world, would never exist.
I think of myself as pretty ordinary, a mum with three young children and a husband who is always on the go. My idea of a perfect day is shopping with my family, taking the kids swimming, and maybe having a meal out. These simple pleasures are a far cry from my work, where I have the National Crime Agency on speed-dial, receive visits from Home Office ministers, and once gave a talk to Chinese government officials.
My job title is ‘Internet Content Analyst’, but ‘content’ doesn’t begin to describe it. Online, I’ve seen beheadings and every kind of brutality. My IWF remit, however, is limited to removing images of child sexual abuse.
At the IWF, we have special security clearance. We work behind two sets of locked doors, in a room where the windows don’t open and there are blinds, so nobody outside can accidentally glimpse our computer screens. It’s illegal to view or download images of child sexual abuse, so we operate under a unique agreement with police chiefs and the Crown Prosecution Service, which makes our work lawful.
"It keeps me going to know my work has led to children being rescued."
I don't have words for the depravities that children suffer. I've felt every bit of shock and grief you can imagine, but I recognised from the start that my job is not about me or my feelings. If I was going to be of use to the victims, I had to get over it.
Nothing can prepare you for this job. That said, I had a stable, supportive upbringing and I’m generally well-balanced, which I think helps. My degree was in forensic psychology and I'd trained as a psychotherapist. I always knew I wanted to help people, although I didn't know how. My mum was concerned when I described my work to her. But she also understood that this role would answer my need to do something worthwhile.
I do chakra meditation and IWF staff attend mandatory psychotherapy. Without counselling, I couldn't do my job. I'm also good at compartmentalising. One of our coping mechanisms is to imagine ourselves insulated by a racing driver's flameproof jumpsuit – I call it my Formula Onesey - which works surprisingly well. Staff support each other. We’re from all backgrounds and ages: a military intelligence officer, a teacher, a prison officer, a former newspaper photographer. My colleagues are amazing people who I would never have met outside of my work.
The job satisfaction is huge. In 1996 when the IWF was founded, 18% of child sexual abuse imagery was hosted on UK sites. Today, that figure is less than 1%. Victims have been rescued as a direct result of our work. We’ve taken down hundreds of thousands of images - preventing youngsters from being re-victimised by more offenders looking at them - and some of the abusers have been arrested, tried and jailed.
The most frustrating part of the job is when images that we’ve already removed go up again. The most depressing part is that today we are busier and the pictures we find are of ever younger children. When I began at the IWF, it was unusual to see baby victims of sexual abuse. I am sad to say that I’m seeing it much more nowadays.
The internet sprang up without anyone in charge and criminals have flourished in its shadows. Most people don’t understand how easily a child can be tricked, bullied, or groomed into putting images online. And once they’re out there, you can’t get them back.
They say every picture tells a story. What keeps me going is the knowledge that my work has sometimes led to a rescue, however terrible the picture, however tragic the story.
Thank you for helping to keep our children safe. You must be shocked to the core at some of the things you have seen
Thank God for people like you. I'm also glad these images are taken down. I'm amazed at people like you and other professionals that hunt these images to remove them.
As a counsellor I know the importance of self care and mental health.
I know I couldn't do it because I don't have the ability to not take it with me.
Huge respect for you and your colleagues.
Thank you for your work, you must be incredibly strong to do this.
Do you ever get disheartened when you hear what light punishment some convicted paedophiles are given? Eg. One near us was caught with thousands of images, some in worst category, all primary school aged children and he got 200 hrs community service. He was also volunteering at brownies and a school reception class, but this wasn't taken into account.
How hard is it day to day? Do you ever find your eyes hurting after a while? Thank you for your work. I couldn’t do it. Do you go into schools to talk with the kids about your work or not? What is the best part of your job?
I work in a prison and have dealings with the people who you put there. The terrible thing is I also see them finish their sentence and then a few months/ years down the line - we see them again.