Victim identification

What is it?

Victim Identification is the term often given to the analysis of photographs and films depicting the sexual abuse of a child – known as child abuse material (CAM) – with the objective of locating the child and/or abuser seen in them.

Victim identification is a combination of image analysis and traditional investigative methods. 

Image analysis is the examination of the digital, visual and audio content of those photographs and films for identification purposes. Clues can come from many places and in many forms, and it is the task of the victim identification specialist to retrieve those clues and piece them together using a range of specialized tools.

The results of this analysis of the virtual world will be crucial to the investigation that can then take place in the physical world.

Who does it?

Some or all of the acts of production, distribution and possession of child abuse material are illegal in many countries. As a result, authorization to gather and investigate it is restricted to law enforcement or government accredited organizations.

Often, sworn law enforcement officers and authorized civilian analysts work together in the field of victim identification, bringing together their diverse skills and experience to solve a case.

Due to the global nature of the Internet and its content, victim identification specialists work closely with their counterparts all over the world to ensure that clues that are unique, typical or easily recognizable in one country are not overlooked by another country.

Why do we do it?

Child sexual abuse is a reality in every society but one that is rarely spoken about and is largely invisible due to the social taboos surrounding it. The vast majority of child sexual abuse is not documented, mostly taking place behind closed doors in private settings such as the home.

Contrary to common conceptions of the crime and its perpetrators, the abuser is most often a person known to the child, such as a parent, uncle, neighbour or childcare professional.

When a person sexually abuses a child and documents the act of abuse for future sexual gratification or for sharing and trading with others via email and Internet, what is really being documented is evidence of a serious crime that it is the obligation of the police to investigate.

Photographs and films depicting child sexual abuse found on the Internet are not merely an online crime affecting virtual victims; they are representations of a real crime involving real people and real suffering.

Victim identification is a methodology that has emerged in recent decades out of a clear need to act upon child abuse material found circulating online and seized by the police from computers and other storage devices. Child Abuse Material is more likely to show the face of the victims of abuse rather than the abuser. This is a reality that dictates the victim-centric focus of image analysts.

Victim identification by specialized investigators aims to alleviate the suffering of the child by identifying and locating him or her, and to bring that child’s abuser to justice.

International Child Sexual Exploitation image database

Managed by INTERPOL, the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) image database is a powerful intelligence and investigative tool which allows specialized investigators to share data with colleagues across the world.

Available through INTERPOL's secure global police communications system (known as I-247), the ICSE database uses sophisticated image and video comparison software to make connections between victims, abusers and places.

Backed by the G8 and funded by the European Commission, the ICSE database was launched in March 2009 as the successor to the INTERPOL Child Abuse Image Database (ICAID) which had been in use since 2001.

The ICSE database enables certified users in member countries to access the database directly and in real time, thereby providing immediate responses to queries related to child sexual exploitation investigations.

In February 2016 the third version of ICSE was released, extensively expanding the database’s features to include video analysis tools as well as cutting-edge technology aimed at supporting investigators’ efforts to identify victims depicted in child sexual exploitation images and videos.

The development of the new version was made possible through the financial support of the European Commission. Police forces in 49 countries plus Europol are connected to the ICSE database and cooperate in the identification of child sexual exploitation victims and their abusers.

By 1 January 2017, the ICSE database included data on more than 10,000 identified victims from around the world, as well as data related to numerous unidentified victims, whose cases are yet to be investigated.

Development of the next generation database, once again, under the financial support of the European Commission is under way. This fourth version of the database will enable connectivity with national Child Abuse Material databases.

The constant changes in offending patterns and in the nature of the material produced and distributed by the offenders, calls for new and innovative law enforcement investigative tools. This new project aims to provide police forces with such a tool to enhance their response in this crime area.



By 1 January 2018, the ICSE database had helped identify close to 12,000 victims and more than 5,600 offenders around the world.


INTERPOL's International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database

8 steps to identifying victims of child sexual abuse