Project Intercept: a million pound investment to revolutionise how we stop online child sexual abuse

17 May 2023

We are delighted to announce today that Nominet, the public benefit internet company, responsible for operating the .UK domain, has awarded us nearly one million pounds to stop people from viewing sexual images and videos of children online.

We will receive £930,000 over the course of three years to use behavioural science, partnerships, and innovation to rollout effective online warnings across the internet to prevent this illegal behaviour.

This ground-breaking initiative will tackle the huge and growing crime of online child sexual abuse by disrupting and deterring people from offending and instead driving them towards confidential help to change their behaviour.

“The scale of online offending means that society needs to continually evolve the tools and techniques it uses to prevent harm to children, said Deborah Denis, CEO of The Lucy Faithfull Foundation. “And that’s exactly what this project will help us to do. We want to achieve the change for child protection that’s been needed for a long time. It has been too easy to offend online for too long and all opportunities for intervention need to be taken.”

A ‘game-changing’ project

Figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council say that the police are now dealing with more than 900 people per month who are alleged to have committed an online child sexual abuse offence. Furthermore, the Internet Watch Foundation reported that in 2022 it found 255,588 online links containing or advertising sexual images of children, up 1% on 2021.

“This project will be a game-changer,” said Ms Denis. “It will make the internet a hostile place that confronts people who are offending or at risk of doing so with the reality of what they are doing. Through a process of systemic innovation, we will be able to roll out gold standard warnings across the internet, so that this approach becomes the norm rather than the exception. We will divert people from their course of action, rather than allowing them to progress on their pathway unimpeded.”

Warning messages

We have already pioneered the use of warning messages presented to people who are searching for sexual images of children online. These warnings clearly state that such behaviour is illegal, causes harm to children, and has huge consequences for the viewer and their own loved ones. The warnings also point towards our Stop It Now! helpline for support to stop. These warning messages direct an average of 15,000 people in the UK per year to Stop It Now!, and even more globally.

The funding from Nominet provides an opportunity to further build on this experience and the forward momentum to design impactful approaches that deter potential perpetrators of abuse. With the grant and Nominet’s support as a tech-focused funder, we can innovate, experiment, and build digital-era capabilities.

“We’ve got a great deal of experience in granting funds to initiatives that equip children with the skills they need to stay safe online, but we’re stepping into a new area to fund this innovative programme, which is focused on deterring offenders,” said Paul Fletcher, CEO of Nominet. “The Internet should be a safe place for all, and that’s why we’re proud to be supporting The Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s pioneering work in this space.”

Working in collaboration

Successfully preventing would-be offenders from viewing sexual images of children online requires effective collaboration between the public, private and non-profit organisations. This cutting-edge programme will work in partnership with technology companies, researchers and law enforcement agencies to further test and improve the effectiveness of the warning messages, and to implement them in more online spaces.

To ensure the project reaches its ambitious goals, we have convened a multi-disciplinary advisory consortium with communication, clinical, research and technical expertise.

This specialist consortium will include the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER), University of Tasmania (UTAS), Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), and law enforcement. Those involved will ensure that the project has up to date insights into the offending threat and how warning messages can best counter this and be rolled out.

What will the project do?

1. Experimentation

  • Develop an evidence-based methodology for testing various warnings in different online spaces
  • Run a series of experimentation cycles to design, test, collect and analyse data and iterate warnings
  • Gather insights as to which warnings are most effective in different online spaces

2. Innovation

  • Mapping of risky online spaces, offender pathways and identification of points to engage internet users
  • Development of new approaches in online spaces that do not currently deploy warnings
  • Run a series of experimentation cycles to design, test, collect and analyse data and iterate new approaches and then implement them

3. Scaling

  • Build partnerships across the technology industry so that more warnings and other approaches can be deployed in more online spaces
  • Design a blueprint for the technology industry for the use of warnings in tackling online child sexual abuse
  • Champion the use of warnings so that there is widespread acceptance that it is best practice

To find out more about the project contact:

Frances Frost, Director of Policy and Advocacy
ffrost@lucyfaithfull.org.uk

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