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Legislations and initiatives to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse

With every third internet user being under the age of 18, online child sexual abuse has become a global public safety issue — producing a generation of victims. The WeProtect Global Alliance estimates that a staggering 54% of those who regularly used the internet as a child (now aged 18-20) were the victims of at least one online sexual harm.

The use of new, rapidly changing digital technologies and the wide reach of online services opens up new challenges to implement and enforce sexual exploitation laws. The fact that such exploitation and abuse may involve victims and perpetrators from different jurisdictions pose challenges to States and local authorities seeking to protect their children, youth and adults. Though highly alarming, sexual exploitation and abuse are just one form of illegal or harmful content or conduct impacting young people online. Cyberbullying, impersonation, trolling, harassment, exposure to hate speech, encouraging self-harm, identity theft and phishing aimed at children are also on the rise. Never before has safety and the prevalence of online dangers been more visibly front and center on the world stage – for governments, the technology industry, law enforcement agencies and civil society.

Australia pioneered the world’s-first “eSafety” government agency; the UK (Online Safety Bill) and the EU (Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act) have already proposed sweeping legislative reforms, while bipartisan momentum is growing in the US for various proposals to further safeguard children’s online safety and privacy. Regulations aimed at protecting minors online are already in place in the US. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was actually signed into law decades ago by President Bill Clinton – but is now widely seen as insufficient.

Some regulatory measures and principles, including safety by design, have already compelled large market players like Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok to implement youth-friendly controls, with Instagram and Apple following suit. These are laudable steps, but it can still be easy for children to evade safeguards, for example, by entering an earlier birth date at registration.

Recent progress includes a bill from Senator Cortese (D-San Jose), SB 1210, to “combat online sexual exploitation in the digital age”. This bill has been signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom in June 2022.

Since the pandemic began, the number of complaints of the non-consensual online sharing of obscene images has increased by over 120%. This has ranged from materials such as “deep fakes” and “revenge porn”. SB 1210 is aiming to prevent online sexual exploitation, non-consensual sharing of obscene images, and provide survivors of online trafficking an avenue for relief, recourse and recovery.

SB 1210 requires any attorney fees and costs be paid to the prevailing plaintiff by the defendant in a civil action arising from the intentional, unauthorized distribution of obscene material.

At the beginning of June 2022, the White House launched a task force focused on the prevention of online abuse, marking one of the most significant steps the Biden administration has taken to examine the connection between digital vitriol and violence. The launch fulfills a pledge Biden made on the campaign trail to convene experts to study online sexual harassment, stalking and nonconsensual pornography, as well as the connection between such abuse and mass shootings and violence against women. The long-awaited initiative comes on the heels of massacres in Uvalde, Tex., and Buffalo, which involved attackers with histories of online threats and radicalization.

Then there is the Earn It Act. This is the strongest piece of bipartisan legislation to confront the explosion of online child sexual abuse material (CSAM), which endangers children by empowering the criminals who make it and trade it. According to federal law enforcement, many of these perpetrators are also hands-on offenders. Current legal incentives award digital platforms for ignoring this grotesque crime, which harms victims for life.

Tech companies are spending tens of millions to fight this common-sense proposal. We must contact members of Congress, both Senators and U.S. Representatives, to ask them to co-sponsor two identical bills: S 3538 in the Senate and H.R. 6544 in the House.

Tell Congress to take action on the EARN IT Act. We must contact members of Congress, both Senators and U.S. Representatives, to ask them to co-sponsor two identical bills: S 3538 in the Senate and H.R. 6544 in the House. Help Us Raise Funds to Implement Human Trafficking Prevention Programs in Schools according to AB1227.

Several national and international organizations supporting EARN It Act have set up convenient Action Alerts that allow you to communicate quickly and directly with congressional offices. Do them all! J

Besides strengthening and widening Sexual Exploitation laws, another approach widely talked about is an end-to-end child user safety process. This, in addition to helping those victimized and in danger, could disincentivize harmful behavior online to begin with. To help, we must recognize that assisting young people who have fallen victim to online harms is a joint responsibility among a variety of stakeholders, including tech platforms, parents, caregivers, government, law enforcement, educators, civil society - as well as teens and young people themselves.

A first approach should be to provide children with the tools and resources to help them report and denounce cyberbullying or harmful content they have been subjected to, while protecting their privacy and benefiting from appropriate assistance. These include the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the US, the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK and Telefono Azzuro in Italy. In France, 3018 is the French national number against online violence and cyberbullying managed by the NGO e-Enfance.

Second, we must keep in mind that younger online users often benefit from the support of their families, parents, caregivers, guardians, friends and educators. Software including content filtering and privacy-conscious real-time monitoring tools, such as SafeToNet are available for home use; schools and teachers can consider tools like CyberSafeKids.

But this is not enough. It is also essential to invest in educating young people to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills to help enable them to effectively evaluate online risks and opportunities.

RAISING AWARENESS. SAVING LIVES. Help us continue with this Life-Saving Campaign to end Child Marriages and prevent Human Trafficking. Check out our new website:

We are looking forward to continuing our efforts to end Child Marriage and Human Trafficking through raising awareness, education, collaboration, and prevention. Our focus is on ending harmful practices towards women and girls such as Child Marriage, Human Trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence.

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