Over the last few years, there has been a staggering increase in the cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation, which are growing at an unprecedented pace. Last year alone, tech companies reported nearly 70 million photos and videos of children being sexually abused. The total number of reports of possible instances of child sexual abuse increased from 1 million in 2010 to almost 17 million in 2019, and reports of uploads from within the EU went from 23 000 to 800 000 in the same time span. According to the Internet Watch Foundation, Europe unfortunately was the global leader in hosting child sexual abuse material in 2019, with 89% of material detected by its search tool.
Given the scourge of child sexual abuse in the EU and globally, it is essential that all actors – governments, industry, civil society and others – come together to work out a common and coordinated solution to eradicate these heinous crimes and better protect victims.
On 9 June 2020, ahead of the publication of the upcoming EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse, Ms. Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, and MEP Caterina Chinnici, Co-Chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on Children’s Rights, hosted a webinar on "Preventing and Combating Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation: Towards an EU Response" to discuss the measures to take at EU level to combat child sexual abuse and exploitation.
The webinar featured a number of high-level speakers, including HE Ferdinand Grapperhaus, Minister of Justice & Security of the Netherlands, Ms. Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, actor and producer Ashton Kutcher, Co-Founder of Thorn, Ms. Julie Cordua, CEO of Thorn, Mr. John F. Clark, CEO of the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Ms. Nunzia Ciardi, Director of the Italian Polizia Postale, and Ms.Jaqueline F. Beauchere, Global Digital Safety Advocateat Microsoft.
“Soon, I will present a European strategy to fight child sexual abuse. This strategy will take into account last November’s European Parliament Resolution on the Rights of the Child.
For crimes that span a continent, we need to think and act on a continental scale. We need a European Centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse and to support victims.”
- said Ms. Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs.
“It is essential to work out a common and coordinated EU strategy that is holistic and involves the full range of stakeholders in government, industry and civil society. The EU should step up its action in the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation, both online and offline.
Given the cross-border nature of these crimes, it is more and more necessary to create an EU Centre for Preventing and Combatting Child Sexual Abuse, as we asked for in our latest European Parliament on Children’s Rights last 26 November 2019.
This centre will make a decisive difference in the lives of children - no one can do this alone - and it will allow us to avoid duplications, harmonise response within Member States and better protect victims, thereby ensuring a coordinated EU response”
- said MEP Caterina Chinnici, Co-Chair of the Intergroup on Children’s Rights.
The current COVID19 pandemic has further increased the risk of sexual exploitation for children, as indicated in the recently published Europol report. As children spend more time online, they are more likely to be exposed to online predators. For children who live with their abusers, the isolation linked to the COVID-19 crisis may have dramatic consequences.
“International cooperation remains essential to tackling these horrendous crimes. Europol, as the EU’s law enforcement agency, provides 24/7 support to police; we host the Victim Identification Taskforce, which brings together law enforcement authorities from the EU and beyond to work on identifying and saving victims of abuse. We saw a worrying increase of online activity by those seeking and circulating child abuse material online since the beginning of the pandemic. It is time to act together as law enforcement and as a society.”
- said Ms. Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol.
“The Dutch government is investing heavily in building effective partnerships with the private sector, and with web-hosting providers in particular, to fight online child sexual abuse. Ultimately, the hosting companies are the leading players in this process and we have to be rigorous in dealing with companies that fail to cooperate. Therefore, I have announced to publicly blacklist uncooperative companies starting in September. Naming and shaming for a higher purpose. But to prevent that child abuse content will shift to hosting companies in other Member States, we have to join forces in the EU.”
- said HE Ferdinand Grapperhaus, Minister of Justice and Security of the Netherlands.
- 16 Juni 2020