Monday, December 06, 2021

New report shows increasing scale of child sexual abuse online

WEPROTECT Global Alliance, a global movement of more than 200 governments, private sector companies and civil society organizations working together to transform the global response to child sexual exploitation and abuse online, noted in its 2021 Global Threat Assessment an increasing scale of child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

Its findings showed that the scale of child sexual exploitation and abuse online is increasing at such a rapid rate that a step change is urgently required in the global response to create safe online environments for children.

It showed that in the past two years, the reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse online has reached its highest levels with the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) processing 60,000 reports of child sexual abuse online every day.

The Philippines has been identified as the "global epicenter of the live stream sexual abuse trade" by Unicef, with a 265 percent increase in online sexual abuse and exploitation recorded from March to May 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic is undeniably one contributory factor behind the spike in reported incidents.

The rise in child “self-generated” sexual material is another trend that challenges the existing response, with the Internet Watch Foundation observing a 77 percent increase in child “self-generated” sexual material from 2019 to 2020.

One example of this is an online group created by teenagers for the buying and selling of sexual images in the Philippines.

Created as a result of the financial challenges brought about by the pandemic, the group had garnered 7,000 members by the time it was taken down.

Iain Drennan, executive director of WeProtect Global Alliance, said:

"The internet has become central to children's lives across the world, even more so as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past two years, we have observed an increase in the scale and complexity of child sexual abuse online. This report should act as a wake-up call to us all; together we must step up the global response and create a safer digital world for all children."

The 2021 Global Threat Assessment report details the scale and scope of the threat of child sexual exploitation online and aims to encourage action on the issue to reduce the risk to children and prevent abuse before it happens.

The three main insights of the report are:

1. The scale and complexity of child sexual exploitation and abuse is increasing and is outstripping the global capacity to respond.

2. Prevention needs to be prioritised.While a strong law enforcement and judicial response is essential, a truly sustainable strategy must include active prevention of abuse. There is a need to ensure the creation of safe online environments where children can thrive.

3. To tackle this complex, global issue, everyone with a role to protect children online needs to work together to dramatically improve the response. There is reason to be hopeful with child sexual exploitation and abuse moving up the global agenda, online safety technology becoming more accessible and advanced, and governments doing more to act.

As part of the report, a global study of childhood experiences of more than 5,000 young adults d (aged 18 to 20) across 54 countries was completed by Economist Impact. More than one in three respondents (34 percent) had been asked to do something sexually explicit online they were uncomfortable with during childhood.

Cited in the report is Ruby's survival story, a 16-year-old Filipino who was misled to accept a staff job that ended up being a front by a trafficker that deprived her of her freedom and body autonomy. She was eventually rescued and later supported by the International Justice Mission (IJM) on her journey to recovery.

Also included in the report was a survey of technology companies that showed most are using tools to detect child sexual abuse material (87 percent use image “hash-matching”), but only 37 percent currently use tools to detect online grooming.

Stakeholders such as financial institutions play a major role in the detection and prevention of livestreamed abuse. A case study conducted by the IJM documented eight instances of large amounts of money being transferred to traffickers in the Philippines from abroad over the course of multiple years.

To prevent abusers and traffickers from funding their illegal activities, Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) issued a directive for the detection and prevention of money laundering related to sexual exploitation of children. This is one of many steps institutions and organizations can take to protect children online.

WeProtect Global Alliance's Global Strategic Response (GSR) provides a global strategy to eliminate child sexual exploitation and abuse, calling for greater voluntary cooperation, transparency, and implementation of online safety technologies, greater regulation to make online environments safer for children, and an increased investment in law enforcement.

"The Global Threat Assessment reveals that livestreamed child sexual abuse for payment is increasing, with demand-side offenders unable to travel turning to livestreamed abuse. This is a reminder that greater global and national collaboration is needed to protect children through sustained whole-of-society approaches, including more effective and resourced justice systems. The inspiring story of Filipino survivor leader and recent Women of the Future Southeast Asia awardee, Ruby, featured in the GTA (p. 61), provides hope that effective justice system responses and international collaboration lead to victim rescue, survivor restoration, and ultimately prevention of new abuse," said John Tanagho, executive director at IJM's Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children.

The Economist Impact survey also demonstrated that girls and respondents who identified as transgender/non-binary, LGBQ+ and/or disabled were more likely to experience online sexual harms during childhood, and respondents who identified as racial or ethnic minorities were less likely to seek help:

To download the full reports, go to (PR)


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