Hotline.ie has found that one in five webpages assessed as displaying images and videos of child sexual abuse last year included a paywall.
Established in 1999, Hotline.ie works with national and international partners including An Garda Síochána to remove child sexual-abuse material from the internet.
According to the organisation’s annual report for 2019, paywalls were often present alongside 'preview' images to advertise premium access to further abusive content subsequent to payment.
Hotline.ie analysts also came across forum threads showing 'preview' imagery and referencing content-trading as an alternative "payment" method to gain access to “the community”.
The annual report notes that the commercial aspect of child sexual-abuse material online is not always obvious or easy to ascertain due to cross-platform production, sharing, distribution and the myriad of payment methods.
“As an NGO working in this field, we know it’s very difficult to think of vulnerable babies and children becoming victims of crimes involving sexual abuse,” said Hotline.ie chief executive Ana Niculescu.
“To know that certain individuals are also profiting from the abhorrent abuse of children and their suffering reinforces the urgency to act and our commitment to do all that we can, every day, to contribute to the eradication of child sexual-abuse material from the internet,” she added.
The annual report shows that Hotline.ie identified and removed more material than ever before last year, with a quarter of 10,773 public reports received in 2019 classified as child sexual-abuse material. This represents an increase of 79% on the previous year.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that while this reflected increasing public engagement with the service, it potentially demonstrates “a concerning increase” in illegal online child sexual-abuse material.
The 2,575 internet addresses that displayed such images appeared across 62 domains, traced to 32 countries worldwide. 64% of child sexual-abuse material found by Hotline.ie was hosted in Europe, with 0.3% in Ireland.
83% of the victims depicted in the images and videos that Hotline.ie analysts worked to remove last year were pre-pubescent children aged from four to 12.
The organisation reported a 157% increase in video content displayed alongside abusive images compared with 2018.
Hotline.ie also identified 998 disguised websites distributing images and videos of abuse — a significant increase from 158 websites in 2018.
Ana Niculescu urged the public to stay vigilant and continue to report concerns to Hotline.ie. The organisation says this can be done anonymously, securely and confidentially.
It adds, however, that urgent situations where people may be in immediate danger should always be reported directly to An Garda Síochána.