The Global Threat Assessment, a landmark report released today by the WePROTECT Global Alliance, is an alarming assessment of child sexual exploitation, laying bare toxic truths about the state of child sexual abuse online. It illustrates in the starkest terms how criminals with a sexual interest in children are interacting with, abusing and exploiting victims at all stages of child development. It’s a call to arms to end this unprecedented crime.
The Global Threat Assessment examines the impact of child sexual exploitation online through five lenses: technology trends enabling these crimes, the victims, the offenders and how they behave, the environmental & social factors and then ultimately the harm done to individuals and societies. It’s a complicated web of horrors, but one that the report untangles.
The world must wake up and take unified, effective action. We must mobilise nation states, the global technology industry and the charity sector to find new and innovative ways to fight this crime and to develop a coordinated international response to this growing and persistent threat. Today the WePROTECT Global Alliance leads this fight with 82 countries, 24 NGOs and over 20 technology members committed to the mission to eradicate this crime.
I founded WeProtect in 2014 with the belief that whilst technology enables much of this crime to occur, it also lies at the heart of any successful solution. However, the only way to ensure this is to apply the process of continuous innovation not just to the products, apps and services we use, but also to how we fund and support the ecosystem of charities and organisations that safeguard children and young adults from harm and abuse online.
There’s a common belief in the technology industry that the products we love and use every day are inherently positive. This belief comes from a good place. I know that because I have worked side by side with some of the greatest minds in the industry for over 25 years. And without exception, they are principled and well-meaning. They care about the future and they want to make it a better place for everyone.
But evil has access to all of the same technology tools that we do. And when the scale of these products reaches nearly half of the world’s population, you don’t just connect with good people – you connect with the bad people too.
And let’s face it, the companies that operate these services have a moral imperative not only to act to stop this kind of behaviour and criminality, but to develop technology that detects the patterns of abuse and to build the infrastructure that enables companies to share information and intelligence with law enforcement agencies.
Today, with hundreds of millions of young users on these platforms, we are seeing an epidemic of cases of child grooming. Paedophiles under the cover of anonymity interact with unsuspecting young people en masse, sharing disgusting tactics, strategies and their devastating acts of abuse.
This must stop.
Some have called the internet the “greatest social experiment in history” and they are not wrong. But when the experiment unfolds in front of our eyes, and when its subjects are our children, we cannot simply be spectators.
I am proud that the Model National Response – developed by the WePROTECT Global Alliance – has provided effective guidance to governments and law enforcement agencies worldwide on how to stop online child sexual exploitation.
But there is still a way to go. The focus for the coming years should be greater collaboration and partnership with the technology companies and social media platforms who are critical to the global response. Together we need to develop a greater understanding of how the threats manifest and evolve, so that we can innovate against them.
Technology will only become more advanced; access to the internet more easily available and therefore the threats to children more imminent, urgent and diverse. The consequences of online child sexual exploitation are devastating.
Today, through the WePROTECT Global Alliance, you can join this fight and become part of the global solution. Please join us in our call to arms to end online child sexual exploitation, for good.