I often say to groups I speak to that if we can’t talk about difficult things like child sexual abuse we can’t prevent them.
Child sexual exploitation online is no different. It’s difficult to think about let alone talk about, but unfortunately, it is rampant and increasing. In 2020 alone, due largely to the pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has seen a staggering increase in reports of child sexual abuse material** online. The number of images and videos reported in 2020 (52 million and counting) FAR exceed the numbers for the same timeframe in 2019. What’s worse, the reports made represent only a small fraction of the total number of images out there. Moreover, there has been a 98% uptick in online enticement (grooming) in 2020 over 2019 thus far. One of the many challenges in addressing material like this is that online child sexual abuse material dose not abide by borders—this means that even if the abuse occurs in the United States, and the victim is in the United States, but the images (evidence) are now located outside of the U.S. it can be extremely difficult for investigators and prosecutors. And unless we do something about it, it’s about to get a whole lot harder. The European Union is poised to enact a law that will make it illegal for tech companies to use technology to detect online sexual exploitation. You read that right: it will be illegal for them to search out and stop child sexual abuse material on their platforms. As someone who has worked to prevent the creation and dissemination of this material, I find this extremely troubling. Because what happens in Europe affects all of us, and will have dangerous spillover consequences to law enforcement and prosecutors wherever you live. When we start prioritizing adult privacy over a child’s right to be free from abuse, I think we’ve gotten it wrong. But there is hope: the European Parliament is currently debating an exception to this law that would allow tech companies to continue using these tools until 2025 when a more permanent solution can (hopefully) be reached. From where I sit, this exception is critical to the health and safety of the globe’s children—your children, my children, and children from all corners of the world. The effects of child sexual abuse are serious and long lasting. Victims often feel powerless to do anything. But we can step in to try to help….because this is a global problem, NCMEC has created an online petition that YOU can add your name to urging the European Parliament to accept the interim regulation until 2025. The final vote is scheduled for December 7, so time is of the essence here. Please join me in adding your name to this important petition. Our children—all of our children—are counting on us. Thanks for your consideration. **You may have heard this referred to as “child porn” a term that those of us working to prevent it disfavor as it not only normalizes it and suggests an element of consent, it also undermines and trivializes the fact that the images or videos being distributed and viewed involve children who are being sexually abused.