About the project

25,281 child abusive images UK-based offences were recorded in 2020-21, up from 17,521 in 2019.  The amount of online child abusive images (OCAI) continues to increase (252,194  images and/or videos of children being sexually abused were found by the Internet Watch Foundation in 2021, compared to 153,350 in 2020).

Technological developments in law enforcement investigations, including the Child Abuse Image Database (CAID), have led to more OCAI victims being identified: in the year ending March 2019, 552 unique victims were identified by UK law enforcement, for example. But the increase in victim identification has heightened disclosure concerns regarding informing unknowing victims of the OCAI’s dissemination and, perhaps, existence. It also makes the need to ensure appropriate reparation for OCAI victims, who suffer distinctive harm requiring a tailored restorative justice approach, even more imperative.

Our project is running from 2021-2023 and is funded by the British Academy and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is being led by Professors Suzanne Ost and Alisdair Gillespie, Law School, Lancaster University, working with two external partners, Professor Ethel Quayle C.B.E, Personal Chair of Forensic Clinical Psychology, University of Edinburgh (a leading clinical psychologist on child sexual exploitation in the UK), and Ms Tink Palmer M.B.E. (the former Chief Executive of the Marie Collins Foundation). We are also working with Early Career Researcher and PhD student, Monique Mehmi (University of Liverpool).


The main project objectives are:

  1. To offer a forum for sharing knowledge and experience to develop collaborative research partnerships between academics and practitioners in order to design a blueprint model of restorative justice for OCAI victims and an ‘unknowing victims toolkit’ for law enforcement officers.
  2. To develop ideas for, and produce, co-authored publications to disseminate our academic-practitioner conceptions of what appropriate reparation for OCAI victims and an ‘unknowing victims toolkit’ could look like.


The project draws on our earlier work in this area:

Ost S and Gillespie AA, ‘To Know or Not to Know: Should Crimes Regarding Photographs of their Child Sexual Abuse be Disclosed to Now-adult, Unknowing Victims’ (2019) 25 International Review of Victimology 223.

Ost S, ‘A New Paradigm of Reparation for Victims of Child Pornography’ (2016) 36(4) Legal Studies 613.