The Minister for Justice, Simon Harris TD, has welcomed the publication of the 2021 Annual Report of Hotline.ie, the national reporting service for potentially criminal content online including child sexual abuse material and intimate image abuse.
Last year, Hotline.ie received the highest number of reports on record in a calendar year, some 29,794 reports compared with 10,699 the previous year. It means that there were as many reports in 2021 as in the previous three years combined.
Minister Harris said, “this marks another year of the important, worthy and difficult work done by Hotline.ie in providing a means for members of the public to confidentially, anonymously and securely report suspected illegal content online, and in particular child sexual abuse material (CSAM).”
“In collaboration with An Garda Síochána, and overseen by the Department of Justice, Hotline.ie has undertaken this work for 22 years with great diligence and professionalism. Prioritising online safety is a key element in building stronger and safer communities under the Programme for Government, and addressing complex issues in this space has, and continues to be, a priority.”
The majority of the reports related to suspected child sex abuse material, with some 14,772 assessed by the analysts at Hotline.ie as relating to child sexual abuse. This represents 25% more child sexual abuse material reports received, classified and actioned by Hotline.ie than in the previous 21 years combined. Each report can involve anything from a single image to thousands of images and videos, with victims ranging in age from infants younger than three to pubescent children.
Minister Harris added, “each image is a crime. Each image has a victim, or victims, who have suffered abuse, and who are re-victimised each time their abuse is viewed as it is shared across the globe. We must never become hardened or inured to these figures.”
Minister Harris also noted Ireland’s support of the EU’s focus on this important area and our commitment to working with our partners to agree comprehensive requirements for online companies to assess and mitigate the extent to which their platforms are being misused for the purposes of child sexual abuse.
This is both in terms of hosting material and the exploitation by abusers of online services for the purposes of grooming children
The 2021 Hotline.ie report also includes, for the first time, statistics on intimate image abuse (IIA), or the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and videos. On the back of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act, which Minister McEntee enacted early in 2021, the Department of Justice partnered with Hotline.ie to make reporting intimate image abuse as easy as possible for as many victims as possible.
Once illegal content is reported to Hotline.ie, their experts assess the report and decide on next steps, including getting the content removed from the internet.
Minister Harris added, “between September 2021 and September 2022, Hotline.ie received 773 reports of suspected IIA. Of the 525 of these that Hotline.ie could take action on – as they contained active and publicly accessible online addresses – some 94pc have been successfully removed at source. The removal rate is very encouraging, particularly as none of the content was hosted in Ireland. Hotline.ie liaises with An Garda Síochana where appropriate on these cases, and it is of course open to victims to contact our police service directly.”
The annual report shows that 83pc of those affected by intimate image abuse were female, with some 73pc between the ages of 25 and 34. In approximately half of the cases, the imagery was found on video streaming sites.
Ana Niculescu, Chief Executive of Hotline.ie, said, “we understand that going through such an experience can cause significant distress and even have long-lasting impact on a person’s life and wellbeing. The team at Hotline.ie is honoured to be able to play an active role to break the cycle of abuse, prevent repeat-victimisation, and support those who have been victims of intimate image abuse on their healing journey.”