The Victim Identification Project (VIP) looked at the problem of child pornography – child abuse images - on the Internet, and looked at this from the child victims’ view. The project investigated and assessed the process of identification of the children in child abuse images and the issues that arise from this process, in addition to investigating the support and counselling the child receives once identification has been successful.
The VIP project was a pioneering project and as such was correctly run as a pilot project, because it was difficult to anticipate exactly what the results of the research would be. Year 3 of the VIP project drew from the findings of the first two years of the project to contribute to the development of suggested guidelines and good practice before disseminating these to relevant professionals across Europe. The partners aimed to reach a number of key people in Europe who work in relevant fields to share the findings of the research, and by doing this contribute to a greater understanding of child abuse images on the Internet, including a greater awareness of the different successful identification techniques and an understanding of the impact on the child of appearing on the Internet in such images. Dissemination was aimed at introducing a greater ‘victim focus’ to the crime of child abuse images on the Internet to the relevant actors across Europe.
No unforeseen activities were implemented, though there was a case of victim identification of great significance which occurred during the year. Two of the Project partners – COPINE at UCC and Radda Barnen - were involved in this case (at different stages), and it was possible to use the important information from this case to help support the project’s key findings.
The VIP project was a groundbreaking effort and has gained an international reputation not only for its results but for the methodology it used and the good practices it demonstrated. In particular, the setting-up of an Ethics Advisory Committee has since become an element of many Daphne projects where abused or at-risk children are involved. The project also provides a good example of how working modalities can be built between very different sectors, such as NGOs and the police, even where such sensitive and indeed criminal activities are concerned. One of the important lessons of the project was that building relationship of trust takes time and that this must be taken into account when planning project activity.
One of the crucial successes of the VIP project was to achieve the cooperation of relevant international and national agencies from different sectors in looking into an area that had not been looked into before. This is a significant achievement and has given the research of this project enormous value, and as the issue of having a ‘victim focus’ has risen up the agenda since the beginning of this project, there is a real need and demand for the information the research can provide. Though there are difficulties in having accurate figures in this area, since the beginning of the VIP project there was a documented rise in the number of child victims identified.
Another important element of the project was the approach it took to profile and dissemination. It was clear the beginning of this difficult and sensitive project that it was crucial that the project remain low profile. There should be little public information about this project available, and media interest was to be positively discouraged. The reasoning behind this was that the project dealt with and produced extremely sensitive and confidential information. A low profile was and still is essential to build on the relationships with various law enforcement bodies that gave the project access to confidential information. Furthermore, it was apparent that the findings of the project might encourage media campaigns by newspapers in an attempt to identify children, and it is also possible that such information might aid child pornographers in learning how to keep their images anonymous. Thus the dissemination of results required caution and it was decided only to share the findings of the research with those who are working in related fields through meetings held in different locations in Europe. The relevant professionals were drawn from law enforcement, social services, child welfare, Internet hotline staff and prosecution services.