Using Automated Warning Messages to Prevent the Downloading of Child Sexual Exploitation Material

Prof. Richard Wortley1, Associate Professor Jeremy  Prichard, Professor  Paul Watters, Dr  Caroline  Spiranovic, Dr  Charlotte  Hunn, Dr  Tony  Krone

1University Of Waikato, Hamilton , New Zealand


With the increasing number of individuals accessing online child sexual exploitation material (CSEM), there is an urgent need for effective primary prevention strategies to supplement the traditional focus on arrest and prosecution. Utilizing a honeypot website purporting to contain barely legal pornography (treated as a proxy for CSEM), we examined whether online warning messages would dissuade individuals from visiting the site. Participants (n=419) who clicked on an online advertisement for the site were randomly assigned to one of five conditions; they either went straight to the barely legal landing page (control; n=100), or encountered a warning message advising of the potential harm to viewers (n=74), the potential harm to victims (n=65), the ability of police to track IP addresses (n=81), or the possible illegality of such pornography (n=99). On the landing page, participants could choose to click ‘enter’, whereupon they received an error message. Attrition rates for the warning message conditions were 38-52%, compared with 27% for the control group. The most effective messages were those that warned that IP addresses can be traced and that the pornography may be illegal. We argue that warning messages offer a valuable and cost-effective strategy that can be scaled up to help reduce the accessing of CSEM online and free police time to deal with the most serious cases.


Richard was Director of  the Jill Dando Institute of Security & Crime Science at University College London 2010-2020, and now has a split appointment between the JDI and the NZ Institute of Security & Crime Science at the University of Waikato. His research interests centre on the role that immediate environments play in criminal behaviour and the implications this has for situational crime prevention. He has a particular interest in the prevention of child sexual exploitation (CSE), both contact and online offending.