For two weeks, from 15 to 26 October 2018 at its headquarters, Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre hosted the fifth Victim Identification Taskforce, whose aim is to identify victims and suspects of child sexual exploitation and abuse. 27 law enforcement experts from 21 countries and INTERPOL joined Europol staff to go through millions of images and video files to find and exploit vital clues. This combination of collaborative work, image and video analysis and criminal intelligence, followed by national investigations, has already led to the safeguarding of 241 victims and prosecution of 94 offenders in 28 countries.
More than 32 million (binary unique) images and video files were available in Europol’s database for this operation. In preparation for this Taskforce, Europol experts triaged 351 series of related images that would be the object of analysis for the participants. One series can link from 2 to more than 5 000 images. Today, at the end of this annual Taskforce, a total of 584 series have been analysed. For 91 series, likely countries of production have been determined and these countries informed, so they can start their own national investigation. All the series have been uploaded to the INTERPOL International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database.
We know that four eyes are better than two, so imagine having 34 pairs of eyes and expert brains working together for two weeks, while exchanging expertise and good practices. The eyes came from Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and third-party partners Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, Moldova, Norway, Switzerland, the United States (US ICE, US FBI) and INTERPOL. The tireless efforts during the four previous editions have resulted in the safeguarding of 241 victims and the arrests and prosecutions of 94 offenders. This number will undoubtedly increase after this fifth edition.
1000 police officers trained
At the same time as the event, for the 19th time, Europol organised a ten-day training course on ‘Combatting the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children’(COSEC) at the Police Academy of North Rhine-Westphalia in Selm, Germany. During this training course, unique of its kind, the training participants were also working on the same series of abuse images as the Victim Identification Taskforce. The COSEC training is meant to expand the community of investigators who fight child sexual abuse and exploitation. Since its first edition in 2000, almost 1 000 law enforcement officers have taken the course which encompasses open source investigations, forensics, victim identification and financial investigations.
Crowdsourcing the search
As a spin-off of the law enforcement-focused Victim identification Taskforce, Europol launched a crowdsourcing initiative to expand the search for the origin of child sexual abuse images to the general public. Since the start of the project, on 1 June 2017, more than 22 000 tips have been sent to Europol which has already resulted in eight children identified and one offender arrested thanks to the help from ordinary citizens.