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Project of the Month: Protecting vulnerable children by identifying child abusers from images of their hands

British researchers funded through the European Research Council H-Unique project are developing a truly pioneering programme to help identify child abusers just from images of their hands. The research focuses on whether our hands are completely unique by looking at anatomical variation.


A key motivation for the H-Unique study is to help investigators identify the perpetrators of child sexual abuse from footage and images shared online, where the backs of hands are often one of the only visible features of the abuser. The researchers will achieve this by teaching computers to extract anatomical features from anonymous photographs of hands sent in by members of the public. This allows the development of computer algorithms that will aid police forces in linking suspects to crimes just through evidence from the uniqueness of their hands. In total, the project needs hand photos from 5 000 ‘citizen scientists’. The team has created a web-based app that allows individuals over the age of 18 to submit photos of their hands. To take part, please go to on your smartphone. In accordance with data protection and privacy rules, the images are not shared with any external agencies and will be destroyed at the end of the project. “Public participation is vital to designing computer models that understand the minutiae of hand anatomy across the whole spectrum of society. The response to our launch in February was fantastic; the contributions are already being annotated and built into our models. All images are gratefully received and many more are needed so please consider contributing.” - Bryan M. Williams, H-Unique Project Lead “This research impacts directly on our ability to bring to justice those who violate our most vulnerable in society and exonerate those who are unjustly accused. Justice rightly demands that if science is to be admitted into the court room, then it must be reliable, repeatable and robust.” - Sue Black, H-Unique Project Coordinator If you are interested in having your project featured in ‘Project of the Month’ in an upcoming issue, please send us an email to and tell us why!


H-Unique, vulnerable children, child abusers, child sexual abuse, anatomical variation, computer algorithms, hand anatomy