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A Window into a World: Protecting Children Through CRC Technology

By: Tom Farrell QPM, Chief Impact Officer SafeToNet

“Protecting children is the priority. Arresting offenders is a by-product.”

Eight years ago, I heard these simple words for the first time during a Child Rescue Coalition training course to help law enforcement identify individuals involved in the possession and distribution of Child Sexual Abuse
Material (CSAM). The statement sounds obvious, but it is more important than ever today, and I hope to explain why in the next few minutes.

Trigger Warning – The Uncomfortable Truth

Firstly, it is important to provide a warning that the content may be uncomfortable. I do not see value in providing unnecessary shocking insights into the realities of this world, but I do think it is important to provide some stark realities to avoid confusion and unnecessary fear that innocent
photos such as a child playing in a bathtub may lead to a full-scale investigation.

Why am I Writing This?

Fundamentally, I am someone who is striving to make the internet as safe as possible for children. I am also a realist who fully accepts that there will always be dangers online just as there are every time our children go to school, play sports, and begin to gain their independence.

As I have mentioned at the beginning, I attended a training course in 2014 that changed my professional and personal lives for ever. At that point I had been a law enforcement officer for 12 years and had been involved in investigating a wide range of criminality including murders, organized crime, and cybercrime. I mention this to emphasise that I fully accept that other areas of criminality exist online and what is best for child safety may not be best for other crime types.

I thought that I had experienced the worst of humanity until that course when I discovered that millions of individuals worldwide engaged in the possession and distribution of CSAM. It then became my mission to do everything I could to help to protect the children who were the subject of these horrific images and videos, and protect the children who unknowingly encountered individuals who gain sexual gratification from watching children as young as a few hours old be raped and tortured.

window into a world

I spent the next seven years working tirelessly to try and do this, including helping law enforcement in developing countries establish proactive responses to protecting children. I was fortunate to be the recipient of the Queens Police Medal for my efforts and the CRC Investigator of the Year Award in 2019.

In 2021, I left law enforcement and joined SafeToNet, a UK founded safety tech company focussed solely on keeping children safer online. I made this move because I want to continue to help children by using technology to move the needle further towards preventing harm from occurring in the first
place, rather than a reactionary response when often the damage is already done. I like to think that my experiences give credibility to my views and hopefully offer reassurance that I have some first-hand knowledge of the scale of harm taking place.

What is the Value of the CRC’s Technology?

The value of the technology provided free of charge to law enforcement by Child Rescue Coalition is priceless. It means that they can prevent people from having free and unvetted access to view theworst moments of the lives of countless brave children who grow up knowing that strangers are
watching these moments for their own sexual gratification.

I could recount dozens of occasions where my use of the technology provided that vital window into a world otherwise unknown and led to the protection of children being physically abused, but I will share three brief examples. It is worth mentioning that on two of these three occasions the insight related to a single image of CSAM.

Firstly, a case of possession of CSAM led to the identification of an adult male, adult female, and child under three years old at an address. There was no previous intelligence or reports regarding the address or the individuals. On attendance recovery of digital media identified the male was regularly raping the child. The report of CSAM directly led to the rescue of that child from
unimaginable pain and suffering.

Secondly, a case of possession of CSAM was identified shortly before an individual faced retrial for years of abuse of a young family member. The corroboration provided by the report strengthened the case and contributed to the offender receiving a significant prison sentence without the need for
the child to relive the abuse again in a court of law.

Lastly, a case of possession of CSAM led to multi-agency enforcement action against an individual in a significant position of power. As part of the thorough response, it was established that they were using their child’s sleepovers to drug the young children attending to commit abuse against them. Without the initial report, it is impossible to know how long this would have continued and if the abuse would ever have been revealed.

In Conclusion

So, to finish I will go back to where I started – protecting children is the most important aspect of the insights gained from using technology such as that provided by Child Rescue Coalition. We owe it to children worldwide to explore every opportunity to make the internet as safe as possible. These insights regularly represent the only opportunity to protect children before it is too late.

In a generations time when there inevitable inquires relating to the current scale of online child sexual abuse, we should hand on heart be able to say that we did everything in our power to make the internet as safe as possible for children. Child Rescue Coalition’s technology makes this possible

Tom Farrell is the Chief Impact Officer at SafeToNet, a leading safety tech company designing preventative solutions to keep children safe online. Tom was previously a UK law enforcement officer who used CRC’s technology extensively and wad recognised as our Investigator of the Year in 2019.