Hotline expansion into high-risk countries

Is everyone able to report child sexual abuse material (CSAM) they might encounter on the internet? The answer is no. This question often disturbs people or unbalances them, because they cannot believe that people record and distribute the sexual abuse of children. By reducing the supply of CSAM, we reduce demand, as well as access to this content. And network expansion is how we can address the many parts of the world that do not yet offer public reporting. 

Date 2021-12-15 Author INHOPE Section awareness, hotlines, industry, news, policy Topic media literacy/education Audience media specialist, organisations and industry, research, policy and decision makers

Currently, the INHOPE network operates in 42 countries around the world. Our belief, however, is that every country must have a dedicated national hotline to which the public can report URLs of any images or videos of child sexual abuse. As we expand, we are focused on high-risk areas for CSAM production and hosting. 

How we assess countries for network expansion

INHOPE determines target countries using our own country assessment framework to evaluate a variety of factors that result in an overall country rating. Multiple factors are taken into consideration including, but not limited to: 

  • socio-economic and geographical factors. 
  • how engaged the government is in fighting online CSAM. 
  • if there is a task force in place. 
  • if there is a specialised CSAM police unit. 
  • the presence of international and national child protection organisations. 
  • the likelihood of INHOPE successfully setting-up a hotline. 
  • risk factors, such as hosting volume and production of CSAM. 
  • what legislation is in place. 

The final rating determines whether or not a particular country will be on INHOPE’s target list. INHOPE's goal is to have hotlines around the world and hence it must prioritise high-risk areas. The target list always includes major internet usage expansion zones (Asia Pacific, South Asia, Latin America & Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa) as this is a vital factor in the removal of CSAM online. 

The value of a local presence

When we think about the ability to report, we can sometimes oversimplify this by just considering the online platform. However, tackling CSAM requires the input of many stakeholders in order to be truly successful in making a difference long term. A local presence provides the opportunity for a country to take ownership of the challenge of CSAM. A hotline can be run by a civil society organisation, a trade body, an ISP association, a regulatory authority, or another appropriate entity. Below, we outline the ideal situation made possible by the local presence of a national hotline so that online child protection becomes a priority among key stakeholders. 

1) Getting government support

Without country ownership, establishing a national hotline is an uphill battle. Therefore, it is essential that any government proactively supports the national hotline as this will have an impact on the hotlines’ ability to operate and engage other stakeholders. The hotline then creates and implements the national response, as well as setting out operational requirements and advocating for homogenous legislation.

We all assume and hope that the law is up to date on the topic of CSAM, however, this is often not the case as you find in the ICMEC Model Legislation & Global Review (extensive research into laws that exist around the world to better understand how countries deal with a problem of enormous magnitude and harm to children). It will come as a surprise to many people that 38 countries do not criminalise cases where possession of CSAM is confirmed, regardless of intent to distribute, 51 countries do not yet define CSAM, while 25 countries do not have any legislation in place that covers technology-facilitated CSAM offences. Therefore, if online crimes are covered by national legislation, they do not always cover the realm of digital crimes that are committed. The complexity of cybercrimes is increased by their borderless nature. International and national lobbying are required to protect children from these crimes. 

2) Setting up a Memorandum of Understanding with law enforcement

Regardless of the positive intentions, an organisation cannot simply receive reports of online CSAM from the public and start processing them. National law enforcement needs to know that a hotline does not do the job of the police, rather it collaborates with the police to save them time. This is highly sensitive material and precautions must be taken in order to:

  1. ensure that the analysts responsible are trained properly. 
  2. ensure safeguards and protections are in place so that content is not shared further. 
  3. avoid misuse of the content. 
  4. ensure that analysts receive appropriate mental, well-being, and resilience support. 

A strong relationship with national law enforcement is how laws will be enforced and resources refocussed. To do this, INHOPE hotlines will continue working closely with law enforcement to support their incredible efforts, ensuring that they only receive reports of new and confirmed CSAM, therefore highlighting the cases that need investigation and/or must be prioritised. Gathering evidence of these crimes is crucial as victims are often unable to help themselves due to a variety of factors. The collaboration between national hotlines, industry, and law enforcement therefore becomes even more valuable. 

3) Creating education, awareness, action with civil society and NGOs

Once a national hotline is set up, the journey really begins. The public need to have access to educational material that raises their awareness of what CSAM is, as well as being aware that they should report to the national hotline. The actual act of reporting is often blocked by obstacles that we first need to remove. These include:

  1. a lack of knowledge on what is illegal. 
  2. a lack of awareness on how to report. 
  3. a lack of trust in the fact that their report will make a difference. 
  4. a lack of victim support. 

A societal change in mindset is necessary and a hotline itself is a source of awareness-raising campaigns for the public, as are other NGOs and child protection organisations, along with local educational authorities, government departments (Health and Education for example) and industry. NGOs are especially key in helping to raise awareness with children, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders. 

4) Building relationships with industry

INHOPE never assumes that any stakeholder knows what is happening either in their country or outside their country to fight CSAM. This is why we bring all actors together for a roundtable near the start of our journey with an identified organisation in a target country. Early engagement can encourage collaboration and the creation of a task force. 

The technology sector, especially hosting providers, have a crucial role as content is hosted online and, after the content is reviewed, assessed and classified as illegal, it needs to be removed. The longer content is online, the more it is at risk of being shared and consumed. Positive partnerships with hosting providers speed up notice and takedown (NTD) times that reduce the availability of online CSAM and eventual CSAM demand. This results in legal and clean servers for companies. 

Some common challenges for hosting providers to understand include: 

  • the importance of the removal of CSAM. 
  • the part they can play in both making it easier to remove and to prevent revictimisation, as well as rescue victims and prevent further harm. 
  • the support they can provide to hotlines, police and, ultimately, their own customers in a safe and secure online environment. 

Discussions can be difficult to initiate as CSAM is a sensitive and often taboo topic. Therefore, in addition to developing tools, investment in trust and safety is a key way to address the important role that the technology sector has in CSAM removal. The technology sector can also promote its support by lobbying for policy changes on a national level. 

We know that creating a national hotline is complex, involves many stakeholders, and requires significant time and dedication. INHOPE is about creating global access to public reporting, and we support prospective hotline organisations in the target country every step of the way. We use our prominent voice to assist in the hard conversations with law enforcement, government, or tech companies to ensure success in establishing a hotline. A national hotline helps provide the structure to tackle the problem as its core. The relationships built on the ground create a foundation for future cooperation, while being part of the INHOPE network provides continuous growth and long-term support. 

Cover of the hotline expansion into high-risk countries. Image credits: INHOPE


Learn more about the INHOPE network and establishing a hotline

Learn more about the work of INHOPE, and report illegal content, at

Related news