Two years ago Little Ted’s nursery worker, Vanessa George, was jailed indefinitely for sharing child porn images with paedophiles. Earlier this year an accountant was caught with what almost half-a-million images of children, believed to be the largest collection of child pornography in Britain.

What these media reports indicate is that the uploading and distribution of online child sexual abuse images by seemingly upstanding professionals is rapidly encroaching rapidly into the workplace. It is now up to the HR professionals to address this dirty little illegal staff secret before it further infringes on the rest of the staff’s welfare, and damages corporate reputation.

As child sex abuse is illegal, instead of illicit, cunning offenders seek to exploit every loophole they can find to indulge in their habits undetected. HR managers are often underprepared for this. In these cases, simply asking the IT department to block offensive and known web URLs no longer stand up to scrutiny as users are exploiting other services than the usual http to indulge in their habits in the workplace.

Despite common myths about abuse images only being accessed by the ‘local weirdo’ – the fact is that in the majority of incidents, the opposite is the case. According to the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in the UK, a typical person caught with child abuse images is a man, on average 38 years old; 66 per cent have no previous criminal record, and 44 per cent are married. In other words, these people can be a typical company employee, from a stable background with an unblemished record, making them tremendously difficult to spot.

Research shows that around one third of those looking at child abuse images commit abuse, so anyone identified within the business is statistically a potential future abuser or is already an active one. This makes it imperative to that these individuals are tracked down and dealt with using the correct technologies and corporate disciplining.
So how can the HR business manager or director recruit properly, protect employees, and the wider business brand from this growingthreat?

A growing industry
Conservative estimates put the child abuse industry’s worth at $100 million with over 47 per cent of images traced placed in the most serious category and 80 per cent of images involving children under the age of ten. The offenders are out there, working in respectable jobs and often mask their true urges behind a façade of respectability.

The UN estimates that 750,000 people are looking at child sexual abuse content online at any given time. This shocking figure illustrates the great extent of the problem, which can occur in any organisation, at any time, often when least expected. The hierarchy abuse pyramid can be divided into three distinct categories. At the most serious level are the abuse distributers who create and spread the content to a broad audience. The next layer is comprised of the addicted advanced users, who regularly view indecent images and know where to obtain them.

Often they are clever enough to hide their behaviour through USB sticks and social networking sites so that traditional web filter security programmes do not register their activities. Finally, the bottom layer is that of the curious or experimental users who begin searching and hording indecent images and then often go on to become addicted.

There is a genuine moral case for tackling child abuse images on the corporate network. The people that view these images are participating in a cycle of abuse and perpetuating a market for ringleaders to continue to produce material and thus make more children suffer. Furthermore it is estimated that around 30 per cent of those who access child abuse content will go on to commit actual abuse – a chilling statistic.

It wouldn’t happen in your business or under your HR policies?
Traditional internet web filters undoubtedly do a good job at the basics of employee activity monitoring over the Internet. They can block members of staff from visiting obscene websites and keep a close eye on search terms for concerning activity. But, in the case of child abuse images, thissecurity precaution is at best minimal, at worst ineffective.

Sadly, positive innovations such as social media sites have inadvertently made the sharing and viewing of these images much easier for offenders. Increasingly, these is a growing trend toward bringing illegal content into the workplace on USB sticks and memory devices to avoid detection via traditional URL searching.

Traditional web filters simply cannot deliver the necessary levels of security needed to prevent, track and tackle this kind of abuse on the corporate network. By allowing these images to exist undetected, businesses also open themselves up to the threat of blackmail or prosecution, which can have devastating consequences for the brand and culture of the company in the long term.
HR professionals also have a duty of care to the business board and employees by preventing this kind of content from existing on the corporate enterprise and rooting out these staff from the outset as soon as they realise any such behaviour is being carried out using staff devices or through staff computing networks.

In an environment where obscene images are circulating on work computers or email systems, there is a very real risk of innocent members of staff being exposed to the images, which can cause considerable distress.
Ultimately HR directors in particular need to show they are taking a strategic and proactive approach to illegal staff activities and tackle the spread from within the organisation of child abuse images, and keeping their organisation clean from illegal content.

Many organisations are already taking a proactive approach to tackling the increased spread of child abuse images, looking into their own workforce to flag and identify inappropriate behaviour where it is found.
However, HR and business managers cannot afford to discover these issues only after the police have raided the building and launched a formal investigation. These abuses need to be tracked, flagged and actioned by a responsible and well-ordered business and an eagle-eyed, zero-tolerance HR team.
Not knowing if these images exist on the network or not could also open up staff and businesses to blackmail and allegations of negligence or ignorance.

Fortunately many organisations are now getting to grips with this problem. More and more offenders exposed and convicted, which means children are better protected. Web filter technologies have a role in the IT security armour but cannot deliver the state of the art image fingerprint recognition needed to stop clever offenders who get around the problem through social sites and memory sticks.
Now is the time for a new and radical approach by HR departments working in conjunction with the IT managers, and act to escalate any abuses of this kind for the local law enforcement authorities in order to protect children online for the long term.