Identifying victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation is a priority for police forces across the world. Child victims are re-victimised when their abusers record the crimes, and further victimised when the abuser distributes the material to others across the globe. However, tackling this crime area can be difficult for police at a national level, although cooperation at an international level has proven to be very effective for those police forces that are able to commit the required resources.
The job for law enforcement is made additionally challenging as the majority of the serious abuse websites use technical resources to hide identities. Sadly the number of children being abused is rising, and the way these criminal networks are designed boosts demand for more child abuse material depicting new victims.
Therefore, in November 2014, at the request of EU Member States and other cooperation partners, Europol hosted a Victim Identification Taskforce (VIDTF) to harness international cooperation in a new way. Over 12 days, from 3-14 November, experts in victim identification from 11 police agencies in nine countries worked together at Europol. Interpol - which hosts the International Child Sexual Exploitation image database (ICSE DB) - was one of those agencies.
Experts from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the USA, Europol and Interpol worked on an unprecedented amount of child sexual abuse and exploitation material gathered from seizures in some of those countries. Through the pooling of resources facilitated by Europol, the countries' experts were able to select material and establish links that would otherwise not have been possible. Using existing methods of victim identification and developing new ones, the experts isolated collections of images and video files from the gathered material. They then examined these collections for clues that could localise investigations and lead to the identification of the victims shown. Europol then added its own intelligence input to the experts' analyses, giving essential added value to leads that they had identified. Europol were then able to distribute whole intelligence packages to the relevant countries on the victims and offenders.
This Europol coordinated effort led to 240 new collections of material being uploaded to Interpol's ICSE DB and additions were made to more than 100 collections already present there. This will result in a much better chance of child victims being identified, through the combined efforts of investigators worldwide.
Some children have already been made safe as a result of the work of the VIDTF in Germany and Australia. Other investigations have advanced significantly both from work done during the VIDTF and afterwards by investigators capitalising on that work.
Troels Oerting, Head of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, said of the work: "The most important task for police working on online child sexual abuse is to identify and rescue the victims from further sexual assaults. Pooling resources, knowledge and technical skills is the most effective way to identify and rescue these poor children. That is why it is so important that global police agencies invest and participate in victim identification taskforces such as this. EC3 will continue to support, facilitate and fund these taskforces and we are extremely committed to our role in this important area."