International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children Australia Ltd

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Embracing a Year of Change Together

December 18, 2023

Approaching the end of the year is often a time of furious activity combined with moments of reflection on the successes and challenges throughout the previous twelve months.

As a sector, the child sexual exploitation response ecosystem has witnessed both in 2023, in Australia and globally. 

On a positive note, we’ve seen the registering of six of the online safety industry codes by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant. Five industry codes, Social Media Services, Internet Carriage Services, Equipment Providers, App Distribution Services and Hosting Services, were registered in June, coming into effect on 16th December 2023. The revised search engine code was registered in September, and will come into effect on 12 March 2024. And the Commissioner issued the draft Industry Standards for the remaining two industries of Relevant Electronic Services and Designated internet Services in November, with industry consultation to close on 21st December. 

This is a significant achievement by the eSafety Commissioner as she implements the requirements of the world-leading Online Safety Act 2021. 

Other regulatory wins this year include the final passing of the UK Online Safety Act, which received Royal Assent in October, and the first tier of regulations under the EU Digital Services Act coming into force in August. Along with the formation of the US and Australian Joint Council on Combatting Online Child Sexual Exploitation in May, the level of focus and collaboration at government level around the world is encouraging. 

However, alongside this positive action we have also seen a slew of research released this year that highlights the sheer prevalence of the crime experienced by children in Australia and around the world. The Australian Child Maltreatment Study, a landmark research project released in April, identified that more than one in four Australian children experiences child sexual abuse. 

This is just one of many research projects published this year that offer sobering statistics and alarming results. The vital work that Australian and international researchers carry out underpins how we respond to this issue, both as professionals and a community as a whole. It helps to create greater awareness of the issue and inform our actions and initiatives. Whilst the results can sometimes be difficult to read, without this work, the sector would be operating in the dark. We’ve created a summary of some of the key studies this year, which you can download here.

In addition to the research statistics, we’ve also experienced collective horror at news stories revealing the dark truth of this crime, in cases such as Operation Tenterfield as well as the ongoing and increasing reports of the sextortion of Australian children to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE). These cases serve as a reminder that we are not dealing with faceless statistics. These are real children significantly impacted by a horrific crime. 

Despite the darkness that comes with this work, the most uplifting moments of 2023 have been witnessing the collaboration and commitment shown by those in the CSE response community. 

This year has been one of growth for the ICMEC Australia team, gaining the expertise and experience of several of the industry’s most experienced professionals. We are humbled and privileged that these people have joined us in supporting the sector in this essential work.

But the most rewarding aspect of this year has been to experience the passion that our partners have for doing all they can to eliminate child sexual abuse facilitated online. Our inaugural Financial Symposium in October saw so many people willing to give their time to share their expertise with those who would traditionally be considered competitors, in order to help protect children. 

As a team, we are incredibly proud of our achievements this year but most of all, we are grateful to have had the privilege to work alongside so many passionate people committed to saving children from abuse and exploitation.

Through all the statistics and dark stories, it’s the commitment of those who are diligently following the digital trails, and throwing light on the crime, who are our inspiration to do the work we do and our encouragement as we continue the fight in 2024.

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