An IWF snapshot study
Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is the UK body working internationally to identify and remove child sexual abuse images and videos online. Our annual statistics show that images featuring the sexual abuse of girls are most prevalent. And when our analysts see an offender, they are most often a man.
There has been no analysis of the prevalence of female abusers in the images and videos we see. Therefore, we carried out a focused analysis on a subset of data that involves female offenders for two months, between 1 April and 31 May 2021.
We found there to be a dominance of imagery featuring child victims aged 7 to 10 years old. We also discovered that boys are most often abused.
During the data collection period, our analysts were asked to specifically monitor reports for images or videos that clearly involved an adult woman (or women) engaged in the sexual abuse of children.
Given that one report might contain one, or many tens or hundreds of individual images and videos, one of our quality assurance team separated out all the individual images and videos of relevance to this study to perform the analysis and recorded 504 instances.
In the UK, child sexual abuse is categorised according to the Sentencing Council’s Guidelines:
- Category A: Images involving penetrative sexual activity; images involving sexual activity with an animal or sadism.
- Category B: Images involving non-penetrative sexual activity.
- Category C: Other indecent images not falling within categories A or B.
We recorded the age of the child victim in each image or video. Where more than one child appears, we recorded the age of the youngest child, falling within these categories: 0-2, 3-6, 7-10, 11-13, 14-15, 16-17.
We also recorded the sex of the victim: Boy, girl, or both if the instance included a combination of male and female children.
It was not part of the study to try and establish where geographically the imagery had been recorded.
We found that:
- Images showing a female abuser were seen on average 13 times per working day.
In half of the images and videos (49%) showing a female abuser, she was abusing a boy.
- Whilst there is no directly-comparative data, we can compare against all reports* actioned by IWF during 1 April – 31 May, and the whole of 2020.
- 1 April – 31 May: 3% of all child sexual abuse reports which showed an offender present with a child showed a male victim.
- For the whole of 2020: 4% of all child sexual abuse reports which showed an offender present with a child showed a male victim.
Just over half of the content was Category A (53% or 267 instances) where the female abuser is seen engaging in penetrative sexual activity, sadism or bestiality.
- 28% is based on images alone (74 images of 267 Category A instances)
- 72% is based on videos (193 videos of 267 Category A instances).
- By comparison:
- 1 April – 31 May: 26% of all child sexual abuse reports which showed an offender present with a child showed Category A content.
- For the whole of 2020: 17% of all child sexual abuse reports which showed an offender present with a child showed Category A content.
- Category A content is most often seen in videos, rather than still images.
- In still images, female offenders are most often seen abusing children aged 7-10.
- In videos, female offenders are most often seen abusing children aged 3-6.
The below data tables show a breakdown of the results noting the severity of the abuse, the age of the victim, and the sex of the victim.
Category of abuse by number of images and videos
|Severity of abuse||Number of images||Number of videos||Total|
Ages of victims by number of images and videos
|Age of victim||Number of images||Number of videos||Total|
Sex of victims by number of images and videos
|Sex||Number of images||Number of videos||Total|
Our analysts also observed that in assessing the video content within the 7-10 age bracket, 75% of those videos involved boys. Our broader statistics show that in the vast majority of cases, girls are the primary victims of child sexual abuse in the content we see during the course of our work, however this snapshot study reveals that in these particular cases involving women, it’s boys who were more likely to be sexually abused.
There were duplicates of the same images and videos being shared across multiple sites, and one frequently seen set was indicative of an organised set up whereby children were sexually abused and filmed in what was likely either a hotel room or apartment involving more than one woman.
Some videos were up to 30 minutes long, and some were compilations of female offenders. Where there were compilations showing different women, for the purposes of this study, this was recorded as one video.
How does this study help our work?
We hope that by understanding the crimes committed against children it will help our, and others’, knowledge of the problem and lead to new ways of tackling this criminality and protecting children.