Today, the European Union (EU) adopted a new strategy to fight against child sexual abuse – a crime that affects one in five children across the region. The strategy sets out a comprehensive response to the growing threat of child sexual abuse both on and offline, focusing on the improvement of prevention mechanisms, investigation support, and assistance to victims.
The new strategy comes at a time where COVID-19 and related isolation measures are driving more children – and adults – online, increasing the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse on digital platforms. According to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of online child sexual abuse in the EU have increased from 23,000 in 2010 to more than 725,000 in 2019 alone, a number that has increased as a result of the pandemic.
The EU is tackling this issue through this new strategy, which sets out eight specific initiatives to combat sexual abuse. The initiatives focus on strengthening legal frameworks and law enforcement responses, while boosting the coordination between many relevant actors.
Key actions covered in the strategy include:
- Developing and implementing the right legal framework to protect children and requiring online services providers to detect known child sexual abuse material and require them to report that material to public authorities.
- Creating a European centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse, which would cover prevention, law enforcement and assistance to victims.
- Preparing a “prevention network” of practitioners and researchers to facilitate the exchange of best practices.
- Supporting Member States to use rigorously evaluated and effective prevention measures to decrease the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the EU.
To do this, the EU plans to work with civil society organisations, academia, researchers, law enforcement and others. This strategy will run from 2020 to 2025.
“We welcome this action-focused strategy and the EU’s ongoing leadership to end child sexual abuse,” said Dr Howard Taylor, the Executive Director of the End Violence Partnership. “With nearly 100 million children living in the European Union, the new strategy has the potential to make sure that a huge number of girls and boys grow up safe and secure. “We look forward to supporting the implementation of the strategy and to seeing it change many children’s lives for the better."