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Migration and Home Affairs
News article19 October 20213 min read

European Commission welcomes the new Global Threat Assessment report from the We Protect Global Alliance

The report launched today by the WeProtect Global Alliance provides evidence of the scale and nature of child sexual exploitation and calls for a stronger global response to prevent and combat this crime.

The report includes the result of a global survey from the Economist Impact team, which surveyed more than 5,000 18- to 20-year-olds who had regular access to the internet as children to understand their experiences of and exposure to online sexual harms during childhood. The results are illuminating:

  • Most online sexual harm against children is happening in private - Two thirds of respondents who received sexually-explicit material online as children received it through a private messaging service, most commonly on their personal mobile device.
  • Minorities are more at risk - Respondents who self-identified as transgender or non-binary, disabled, LGBQ+ or as a racial or ethnic minority were more likely to have experienced these online sexual harms during childhood.
  • Online sexual harms against children are widespread - 54% of respondents had experienced at least one of the online sexual harms considered before they were 18. Nearly half of boys (48%) and 57% of girls reported experiencing at least one harm.
  • The age of first exposure to sexually explicit content is falling - 20-year-old respondents on average had their first exposure to sexually-explicit content online at age 13.4 years old compared with 12.7 years old for 18-year-old respondents.

The report also suggests that a significant proportion of child sexual abuse online may go undetected due to under-reporting, and the use of encrypted messaging services. The use of dark web platforms to distribute material has also increased.

Key recommendations to improve the response to this global issue include stronger regulation, law enforcement capacity-building, and cooperation with tech companies for greater transparency and online safety technologies.

These recommendations confirm the need for the initiatives set out in the EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse, which addresses all key areas in the fight against child sexual abuse: strengthen prevention, reinforce the detection, reporting and removal of child sexual abuse online and the capacity of law enforcement to rescue victims, and improve assistance to victims.

The Commission is implementing the commitments of the Strategy. On the legislative side, the Commission will adopt a proposal to tackle child sexual abuse effectively, including by requiring relevant companies to detect and report to public authorities child sexual abuse online. The legislation may also establish an EU Centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse to facilitate the detection, reporting and removal of CSA online and support Member States on their prevention and assistance to victims’ efforts.

The Commission also promotes coordination: in the area of prevention, work is underway to develop a prevention network for practitioners and researchers; the Commission also works with the industry in the framework of the EU Internet Forum.

Finally, the Commission provides funding to boost the capacity of law enforcement, and will launch a new call for proposals for the fight against child sexual abuse this year.

The 2021 Global Threat Assessment is a call for action to tackle one of the worst crimes. We can solve this problem if we work together globally to prevent and respond to these crimes.

The WeProtect Global Alliance brings together experts from government, the private sector and civil society to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse online. The Alliance currently included 98 governments, 53 companies, 61 civil society organisations and 9 international organisations.  Alliance members take a political commitment and implement practical approaches to make the digital world safe and positive for children, preventing sexual abuse and long-term harm. The Commission works closely with the Alliance, e.g. by participating in its policy board, by providing funding and by supporting the organisation in its upcoming global summit in March 2022 in Brussels.

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Publication date
19 October 2021