Take a LEAP of faith and improve collaboration
Online child sexual exploitation is a growing concern around the world and the issue is becoming more severe than ever before. It has never been easier for perpetrators to make contact with innocent children, to share images of abuse and encourage others to commit these hideous crimes.
The good news is that governments and organisations around the world are waking up to the fact that we need to do something urgently.
Many of you will already know that NetClean is involved in the #WePROTECT initiative launched by UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The LEAP project was set up as a result of this and a stakeholder activation meeting was held in London on 31 March. It aimed to provide leadership in empowering and activating child helplines to protect children online.
Children need to know that they are not alone. Establishing a child helpline provides children and young people with direct access to the support services they desperately need. Contacting a helpline is often a child’s first engagement and entry point with child protection services. To help promote the benefits of this, I was invited as a panel speaker alongside representatives from the UK Home Office, UNICEF and GSMA at the LEAP stakeholder meeting.
Our task was to decide how to improve collaboration between government, NGOs and industry in order to tackle child sexual exploitation.
Despite our best attempts, industry leaders recognise that there is currently a disjointed approach in how we collaborate in the fight against child sexual abuse crimes.
Countries are at different levels of maturity and face different challenges. Some, like the UK, US and Sweden, have more resources than many developing countries and therefore also a different approach. They provide dedicated resource to assist police investigations and educate private and public sector organisations to become more vigilant of suspicious behaviour within their communities.
Charity or state-sponsored helplines are useful channels for children to ask for help and talk openly about the abuse they experience, whether it’s grooming, bullying or neglect. Hotlines are incredibly helpful for individuals and organisations to report possible child sexual abuse cases.
However, helplines and hotlines are a reactive means to solving the problem. We also need to take a more proactive stance in how we tackle the global challenge at hand and stop further abuse from happening.
An ecosystem of child protection
Firstly, we need to get buy-in from government and state officials to discuss the child sexual exploitation issues on a broader level. Once we have their commitment, we can build bridges with the industry to ensure they have the solutions to detect illicit content on their corporate and public Wi-Fi networks. Advanced intelligent technologies can block the circulation of illegal images and videos, and improve the collaboration with police in identifying victims and perpetrators.
Getting the message out there is key if we want to create a safer society. Together, we can create a secure environment that educates and empowers our children to speak up. Talking confidently about any abuse they experience will ease their trauma and pave the way to recovery, whilst helping law enforcement track down the perpetrators hidden anonymously behind computer screens.
Schools and parents need to accept that child sexual abuse is happening right here, right now, but at the same time know that they have the power to save these young victims. Government needs to set up laws and regulations to protect our children, ensure they get the help they need. Crimes against children, particularly child sexual exploitation, must be prioritised from a judicial point of view. Law enforcement agencies require dedicated resources to focus on victim identification in order to make the prosecution possible.
This is just the beginning. But it’s enough to sow the seed for our society on the importance of collaboration in child protection. Find out how you can get involved in stopping child sexual abuse here.