Today’s children are more interconnected than ever. With over four billion internet users across the world, the limits of children’s experiences are no longer bound by their bedroom doors, their classroom walls, or the borders of their nation. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the rest of the world – including those seeking to harm children. As the internet’s reach grows, every day, the number of children at risk of online sexual exploitation and abuse multiplies.
Thanks to the generous contributions of the United Kingdom Home Office, Human Dignity Foundation, and the Oak Foundation, the Safe Online initiative supports projects around the world that protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Launched in 2016, Safe Online has so far mobilized US $83 million, of which US $48 million were invested in 60 projects with impact in over 70 countries. Crucially, alongside these investments, Safe Online is increasingly contributing to global policy discussions on child online safety and continues to foster knowledge generation and collaboration within and between networks to maximize the use of collective resources and ensure investments have a broad impact.
Safe Online investments range from supporting programs at country and regional level as well as large-scale research projects (e.g. Disrupting Harm) to designing new and scaling-up existing technology-based solutions along with two other major investments with our partners, the UNICEF Innovation Fund and the Technology Coalition Research Fund awards. Read more about Safe Online portfolio by exploring our Grantee Directory, or sign up to the End Violence Newsletter to receive regular updates.
In 2022, Safe Online is investing an additional US$15 million for solutions to make the internet safer regionally, in Eastern and Southern Africa, and Southeast Asia, and globally to build and deploy technology solutions.
Every half a second, a child
makes their first click online.
Across the world, children's lives are being shaped in two worlds — the physical and the digital — but more often than not, those worlds blend into one.
Children's lives are now being shaped behind a screen, and every day, children are diving deeper into platforms not designed with their safety in mind. As they ingest information, build friendships and make connections, disturbing trends are emerging that threaten children of all ages — even those too young to speak.
With all of its many advantages and opportunities, one of the unforeseen consequences of the rise of the internet and digital technologies has been an exponential growth in online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA), especially through the illicit generation and sharing of child sexual abuse images and videos. More than 200,000 children go online every day, and 800 million are actively using social media. Couple that with the fact that at any given time, an estimated 750,000 individuals are looking to connect with children for sexual purposes online. The explosion of smartphone technology around the world has only catalysed this threat, and the resulting statistics are incredibly alarming.
Child sexual exploitation online:
an ever-growing threat
The numbers of violent and sexual images and videos of children uploaded or live streamed on the internet and Dark Web are increasing at a devastating speed. After nearly disappearing in the 90s, the spread of child sexual abuse material exploded with the rise of the internet, while child sex trafficking increased with exposure to a greater market online.
A decade ago, there were less than one million reports of child abuse material. In 2019, that number climbed to 70 million, a nearly 50 per cent increase over 2018 figures. Many more remain undetected.
Significantly higher number of child sexual abuse material remains undetected, including those on the Dark Web. The expansion of the Dark Web, which is only accessible through specialized software, is another facilitator of online child sexual abuse.
From 2013 to 2018, the number of Dark Web users increased from one to four million. Users of the Dark Web can remain anonymous and, for the most part, untraceable. Because of this, many of the worst forms of child abuse happen through the Dark Web. More than 80 per cent of internet traffic on the Dark Web is generated by visits to websites that offer CSAM, according to a study of “hidden service” websites conducted by the University of Portsmouth. In 2018, 2.88 million accounts were registered globally across the 10 most harmful Dark Web sites focused on child sexual exploitation and abuse online.
The younger the child, the more at-risk online
Studies show that younger children are at an even higher risk of online sexual exploitation, with 89 per cent of victims between 3 and 13 years old.
The Global Threat Assessment conducted by the WeProtect Global Alliance cited that one of the many hidden Internet services dedicated to the abuse of infants and toddlers contained over 18,000 registered members, with another similar forum receiving over 23 million visits.
In addition, a survey conducted by the Canadian Center for Child Protection indicates that 56 percent of the child abuse online began before the age of 4, and 42 percent were abused for more than 10 years. And, reports received by the Internet Watch Foundation show that in the United Kingdom, half of online child sexual abuse cases involve children under age 10, and one-third of those images involve rape and sexual torture.
I. WE INVEST
Since its inception in 2016, the End Violence Fund has invested $47 million in 55 projects focused on preventing and eliminating online child sexual exploitation and abuse in over 70 countries. This includes a large-scale research project, Disrupting Harm, that is engaging three organisations to better understand how digital technology facilitates the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents.
OUR LATEST INVESTMENT
End Violence's latest round of investment centred on solutions that leverage existing and new technologies to prevent and combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse. Through a $10 million open call, the Fund is supporting partners to scale and adapt existing solutions, and to develop new technologies that use tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, blockchain, virtual reality and other innovative solutions that have the potential to enhance detection and response to online child sexual exploitation and abuse and prevent known and emerging threats.
In 2020, the End Violence Partnership teamed up with the world’s biggest technology companies to support a new initiative – Project Protect – to end violence against children online. Project Protect is an initiative led by the Technology Coalition, a group of 18 tech companies including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Twitter. The End Violence Partnership is working with the Coalition on the research aspect of this project, while the WePROTECT Global Alliance is working to strengthen transparency and accountability across the industry.
In January of 2021, End Violence and the Technology Coalition are launching the Tech Coalition Safe Online Research Fund to expand knowledge of online child sexual exploitation and abuse and explore the most effective measures to prevent it.
Through this collaboration, End Violence is teaming up with the biggest players in the technology space as part of Technology Coalition’s Project Protect. Project Protect seeks to prevent and eradicate online CSEA through technology innovation, collective action, research, knowledge sharing, and increased accountability. This fund is an essential part of that process, supporting actionable research that will lead to real, lasting change for children’s digital safety.
As the lead research arm of the project, End Violence will support the Tech Coalition Safe Online Research Fund. We will fund research that produces actionable insights and can impact product and policy development to protect children from risks online. Key outcomes include:
- Improving our understanding of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, with a focus on offender behaviour and children’s experiences;
- Building an evidence-base for product and policy development so that industry and other stakeholders’ response to preventing and disrupting child sexual exploitation and abuse is based on a solid foundation of research; and
- Providing shared understandings so all sectors of the ecosystem working to end online child sexual exploitation and abuse (industry, education, government, civil society, law enforcement) have a stronger awareness of how their work intersects and can be made more effective at all levels.
II. WE CONNECT
End Violence doesn't just provide financial support to our grantees – we provide platforms for exchange, learning and collaboration as well.
THE FIRST GRANTEE CONVENING
After three years of grant-making, the Fund held its first grantee convening from 8-10 December 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The grantee convening provided a platform for organisations across the world to come together, share their resources and experiences, and strengthen the field of child online safety. Nearly 50 individuals attended the convening, representing 38 grantee organisations from 33 projects.
To learn more about the grantee convening, watch the video above and read the recap report, which highlights the learnings, solutions and challenges brought to light over the course of the event.
ONGOING KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE WEBINARS
Since the Fund's inception, we have held digital events for grantees to learn from each other from wherever they are across the globe. In June 2020, End Violence held its 10th knowledge exchange event, which gathered 117 individuals from partner and grantee organisations around the world.
III. WE MOBILISE
End Violence is increasingly coordinating with key actors across the child online safety ecosystem, pushing for children's right to a safe, healthy online experience through collaboration, advocacy and partnership. In addition, End Violence is an active player in global policy discussions involving:
Connectivity and safety. We bring a unique perspective from the field and make broader links with violence against children in multiple forms, including through membership of the Internet Policy and Governance (ITU) and the UNESCO Broadband Commission's working group on child online safety.
Privacy, security and protection. As the discussions around regulation, responsibility and the need for privacy are evolving, End Violence is championing children's rights as paramount in business decisions that will impact on the ability to protect children from online harm.
Frontier technology and human rights. We are a member of a newly convened, diverse group of stakeholders working on developing global guidance on artificial intelligence and children's rights. As part of this engagement, we are looking into the principles, policies and mechanisms within new and frontier technology, ensuring they do not exacerbate harmful norms, inequalities and outcomes that drive violence against children.
Recent highlights include:
- The release of a new campaign, Stay Safe at Home. Stay Safe Online., with our partners in the technology sector, which boosted awareness of risks online and provide resources for parents and children to stay safe.
- The coordination and publication of a global leaders' statement, which called for an urgent, united effort to address violence against children as part of the broader response to COVID-19, including online.
- A recent guidance document from the Safe to Learn coalition, which aims to help education ministries facilitate safe, effective online learning experiences for children during COVID-19.
Since 2016, End Violence Fund has invested $44 million in 52 projects focused on preventing and eliminating online child sexual exploitation and abuse in over 50 countries.
Explore the links below to learn more about what our grantees have accomplished.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented rise in screen time. School closures and strict containment measures mean more and more families are relying on technology and digital solutions to keep children learning, entertained and connected to the outside world, but not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe online.
Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking, such as sending sexualized images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content, as well as a greater risk of cyberbullying.
End Violence, together with its partners UNICEF, ITU, UNESCO, UNODC, WePROTECT Global Alliance, WHO, and World Childhood Foundation USA, released a technical note and a resource pack to support governments, ICT industries, educators and parents to be alert, take urgent measures to mitigate potential risks, and ensure children’s online experiences are safe and positive during COVID-19.
Click the buttons below for resources on specific topics.