Sheffield Hallam University begins €6.8m European project utilising AI to combat online child sexual exploitation

16th December 2020

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University have begun working with key partner organisations from across the EU on a €6.8m project to combat online child sexual exploitation.

The Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime Research (CENTRIC) at Sheffield Hallam University is one of 22 organisations across 14 countries in Europe that have come together to deliver GRACE (Global Response Against Child Exploitation).

GRACE is an EU-funded Horizon 2020 project that aims to equip law enforcement agencies with advanced digital and analytical tools that improve their operational capacity to address child sexual exploitation material.

The growth in online child sexual exploitation and abuse material (CSEM) is a significant challenge for European law enforcement agencies. Referrals of CSEM exceed the capacity of law enforcement agencies to respond in a practical and timely manner.

The GRACE consortium aims to equip European law enforcement agencies with advanced analytical and investigative capabilities to respond to the spread of online CSEM that will help safeguard victims and prosecute offenders.

The consortium will apply proven techniques in machine learning and artificial intelligence to the referral and analysis process while embracing the technical, ethical and legal challenges unique to fighting CSEM.

Babak Akhgar, Director of CENTRIC at Sheffield Hallam University said: “There has been a 4,000% increase in referrals since 2014 of explicit material involving children from broadband service providers.

“This clearly exceeds the capacity of law enforcement agencies to respond in a practical and timely manner.

“This is driven both by increased availability and distribution of online content as well as improved detection and reporting processes.

“That is why we are working to provide a European-wide platform that equips law enforcement agencies with advanced digital and analytical tools they desperately need.

"GRACE will be a critical project for CENTRIC, working alongside many world-leading law enforcement agencies including Europol and renowned academic institutions. This project will, ultimately, lead to advanced digital and analytical tools for combating child sexual exploitation.”

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme and will run until 2023.

For more information about GRACE, visit the project website or follow the project’s progress on Twitter.

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