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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 and video database

Managed by INTERPOL, the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) image and video 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.

Police forces in 54 countries plus Europol are connected to the ICSE database and cooperate in the identification of child sexual exploitation victims and their abusers.

By 1 July 2018, the ICSE database included data on more than 14,200 identified victims from around the world, as well as data related to numerous unidentified victims, whose cases are yet to be investigated.

The fourth version of ICSE, released in June 2018, enhances database features and allows interconnectivity with national child sexual exploitation databases. These interconnections and technical improvements to the system aim to assist its users to more easily sort and enter images and videos in the database. ICSE version 4 was developed under a project called I-CARE (ICSE database Connectivity and Awareness Raising Enhancements) which was funded with support from the European Commission.

Results

Results

By 1 July 2018, the ICSE database had helped identify close to 14,200 victims and more than 6,200 offenders around the world.

Infographics

INTERPOL's International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database

8 steps to identifying victims of child sexual abuse

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