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Hotline Expansion into High-Risk Countries

Is everyone able to report child sexual abuse material (CSAM) they come across on the internet? The answer is no. This question often disturbs people, unbalances them, because they cannot believe that people record and distribute the sexual abuse of children. By reducing the supply of CSAM we reduce the demand as well as the access to this content. And network expansion is how we can address the many parts of the world that do not offer public reporting.

Currently, the INHOPE Network operates in 48 countries around the world, but we believe that every country must have a dedicated national hotline to which the public can report URLs of any images or videos of child sexual abuse. As we expand, we are focused on high-risk areas for CSAM production and hosting.

How we assess countries for network expansion:

We determine target countries using our own country assessment framework to evaluate a variety of factors that result in an overall country rating. We take into consideration the following: socio-economic and geographical factors; how engaged the government is in fighting online CSAM; if there is a task force in place; if they have a specialised CSAM police unit; the presence of international and national child protection organisations; the likelihood of INHOPE successfully setting-up a hotline; the risk factors such as hosting volume and production of CSAM; what legislation is in place and much more.

The final rating determines whether or not a particular country will be on our target list. INHOPE's goal is to have hotlines around the world and we have to prioritise high-risk areas. Our target list always includes major internet usage expansion zones (Asia Pacific, South Asia, Latin America & Africa and MENA) as this is a vital factor in the removal of CSAM online.

The value of a local presence

When we think about the ability to report we can sometimes oversimplify this by just considering the online platform. However, tackling CSAM requires many stakeholders in order to be truly successful in making a difference long term. A local presence provides the opportunity for a country to take ownership of the challenge of CSAM. A hotline can be run by a civil society organisation, a trade body, an ISP Association, a regulatory authority, or other appropriate entity. Below we outline the ideal situation made possible by the local presence of a national hotline so that online child protection becomes a priority among key stakeholders.

1) Getting government support
Without country ownership, establishing a national hotline is an uphill battle. Therefore, it is essential that any government proactively supports the national hotline as this will have an impact on the hotlines’ ability to operate and engage other stakeholders. The hotline then creates and implements the national response, as well as setting out operational requirements and advocating for homogenous legislation.

We all assume and hope that the law is up to date on the topic of CSAM, however, this is often not the case as you find in the ICMEC Model Legislation & Global Review (extensive research into laws that exist around the world to better understand how countries deal with a problem of enormous magnitude and harm to children). It will come as a surprise to many people that 38 countries do not criminalise the cases where possession of CSAM is confirmed, regardless of intent to distribute, and 51 countries do not yet define CSAM, while 25 countries do not have any legislation in place that covers technology-facilitated CSAM offenses. Therefore, if online crimes are covered by national legislation, they do not always cover the realm of digital crimes that are committed. The complexity of cybercrimes is increased by their borderless nature. International and national lobbying are required to protect children from these crimes.

2) Setting up a Memorandum of Understanding with Law Enforcement
Regardless of the positive intentions, an organisation cannot simply receive reports of online CSAM from the public and start processing them. National law enforcement needs to know that a hotline does not do the job of the police, rather it collaborates with the police to save them time. This is highly sensitive material and precautions must be taken in order to 1) ensure that the analysts responsible are trained properly 2) to ensure safeguards and protections are in place so that content is not shared further 3) to avoid misuse of the content 4) to ensure that analysts received appropriate mental well-being and resilience support.

A strong relationship with national law enforcement is how laws will be enforced and resources refocussed. To do this we will continue working closely with law enforcement to support their incredible efforts, ensuring they only receive the reports of new and confirmed CSAM from INHOPE hotlines, and therefore the cases that need investigation and/or must be prioritised. Gathering evidence of these crimes is crucial as victims are often unable to help themselves due to a variety of factors, therefore the collaboration between national hotlines, industry and law enforcement becomes even more valuable.

3) Creating education, awareness, action with Civil Society and NGOs
Once a national hotline is set up the journey really begins. The public needs to have access to educational material that raises their awareness of what CSAM is, as well as being provided with knowledge that they should report to the national hotline. The actual act of reporting is often blocked by obstacles that we first need to remove. Obstacles include 1) a lack of knowledge on what is illegal 2) a lack of awareness on how to report 3) a lack of trust in the fact their report will make a difference 4) a lack of victim support. A societal change in mindset is necessary and a hotline itself is a source of awareness-raising campaigns for the public as are other NGOs and child protection organisations along with local educational authorities, government departments (Health and Education for example) and industry. NGOs are especially key in helping raise awareness with children, parents, teachers and other stakeholders.

4) Building relationships with industry
We never assume that any stakeholders know what is happening either in their country or outside their country to fight CSAM. This is why we bring all actors together for a roundtable near the start of our journey with an identified organisation in a target country. Early engagement can encourage collaboration and the creation of a task force.

The technology sector, especially hosting providers, have a crucial role as content is hosted online and after the content is reviewed, assessed and classified as illegal it needs to be removed. The longer content is online the more it is at risk of being shared and consumed. Positive partnerships with hosting providers speed up notice and takedown times that reduce the availability of online CSAM and eventual CSAM demand. This results in legal and clean servers for companies.

Common challenges for hosting providers to understand:

  1. the importance of the removal of CSAM;
  2. the part they can play in both making it easier to remove and prevent revictimisation, as well as rescue victims and prevent further harm;
  3. the support they can provide to hotlines, police and ultimately their own customers in a safe and secure online environment.

Discussions can be difficult to initiate as CSAM is a sensitive and often taboo topic. Therefore, in addition to developing tools, the investment in Trust and Safety is a strong way to address the important role the technology sector have in CSAM removal. They can also promote their support by lobbying for policy changes on a national level.

We know that creating a national hotline is complex, involves many stakeholders and requires significant time and dedication. INHOPE is about creating global access to public reporting and we support prospective hotline organisations in the target country every step of the way. We use our prominent voice to assist in the hard conversations with law enforcement or government or tech companies to ensure success in establishing a hotline. A national hotline helps provide the structure to tackle the problem as its core. The relationships built on the ground create a foundation for future cooperation, while being part of the INHOPE network provides continuous growth and long-term support.

Sign up for one of our INHOPE Seminars on creating a hotline. Learn more about the process of setting up a hotline from, our Partnerships and INHOPE Network Expansion Lead, Samantha Woolfe.

Hotline Expansion into High-Risk Countries


Sign up for one of our INHOPE Seminars on creating a hotline.