World Day of the Fight Against Sexual Exploitation
On Saturday, 4th March it will be the World Day of the Fight Against Sexual Exploitation. First observed in 2009, the day was designed to raise awareness about the extent of sexual exploitation, and the effects of this crime, which predominantly impacts women and children.
Child sexual exploitation (CSE), especially online, is a rapidly growing issue. Historically a conversation that lingers in the background, too confronting to talk about, it silently destroys thousands of lives each year. But only by acknowledging the issue of CSE and the real scope of its threat can we begin to shift the dial in saving children.
Whilst the online sexual exploitation and abuse of children can occur in many ways, such as grooming, live streaming, consuming child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and sexual extortion (sextortion), the end result is always the same – a traumatised child. The advent of the internet took an already horrific act and magnified it. And with emerging and ever-evolving technologies, perpetrators continue to update their tactics to avoid detection. Although each of these crimes may carry a financial footprint, potentially leading to identifying offenders and victims, images of abuse often remain in circulation and become a repeating source of trauma for victim survivors.
According to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the US, in 2008 there were 100,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation material (OCSEM). By 2021, this number had grown to 219 million, with nearly 85 million different images, videos and other files of abuse and exploitation of children.
The universal nature of the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) means that it transcends borders and is indiscriminate. Children are harmed regardless of their background, family, socio-economic status, or level of education, although those from low socio-economic backgrounds and countries are most at risk. Their safety is constantly threatened by the relentless offenders of this complex and growing crime.
As an organisation we believe in a world where children can grow up safe from exploitation and sexual abuse. Our mission is to support our partners in the CSE response ecosystem to achieve enhanced detection, reporting and prosecution of OSEC through establishing strong partnerships and supporting the implementation of innovative data collaboration projects. We work with financial crimes teams, law enforcement officers, regulators and data owners in their pursuit of identifying perpetrators and victims of child sexual exploitation facilitated online.
2023 has already seen strides taken towards creating a safer internet, and safer world, for children. The focus on a strong regulatory approach has been adopted globally, with Australia’s eSafety Commissioner paving the way for other regulatory authorities around the world to strengthen their stance on the sexual exploitation of children online. Lawmakers have also been pushed towards focusing on child protection and acknowledging the threat that the online abuse of children poses – Australia’s Online Safety Act 2021, the EU’s new Digital Services Act, and the UK’s proposed Online Safety Bill 2021 emphasise this shift.
Rescuing children from harm requires constant vigilance and partnership across industries. Each child that is saved from abuse and exploitation is critical. In 2021, the Australian Federal Police helped to remove 114 children from harm globally – 42% of these children were within our own borders.
With constant changes in technology and evolving perpetrator tactics, tracking child sex offenders is becoming more complex. Offenders work in networks, sharing information, content and methodologies with one another in attempts to elude detection. In order to fight against this, we need innovative data solutions that enable those working in the CSE response ecosystem to share information and that can help to enhance the detection, reporting and prosecution of perpetrators.
The sexual exploitation of children is a 21st century networked problem that requires a networked solution.
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