Experts call for increased efforts to help prevent online child sexual abuse

Vile images are being taken out of online circulation; child victims are being identified and rescued; and perpetrators are being apprehended, but awareness-raising and educational efforts need to increase to help prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse, according to experts attending an international conference in London last week.

“We need to do more work ‘upstream,’” Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of the Norfolk U.K. Police told the Marie Collins Foundation conference, “From Discovery to Recovery – Online Sexual Abuse of Children.” “We need to prevent the abuse from ever taking place in the first place.”

I had the pleasure of speaking at the conference and sharing evidence of Microsoft’s long-standing commitment to child online protection, which includes ridding our internet services of illegal child sexual abuse imagery. I also witnessed the foundation’s effort to recruit members to its new Global Protection Online Network, designed to enable professionals helping child victims recover from online abuse and meet the needs of those children and their families.

Microsoft provided seed funding to establish the network so members could share case studies and best practices; create evidence-based approaches to determine children’s recovery needs, as well as assess the training needs of similarly placed professionals. While it may not be industry’s role to identify and safeguard victims – that is the domain of law enforcement – we can support non-governmental organizations dedicated to these critical pursuits. At Microsoft, we see victims’ services as an area that can benefit from industry support.

To put the problem in perspective, Chief Constable Bailey estimated that more than 100 million indecent images of children are in circulation online today, adding that internet companies made 4.4 million CyberTip reports to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2015 alone. NCMEC then analyzed 139 million images and videos last year – further evidence these crimes against children are on the rise. In the previous 17 years, from 1998 to 2014, NCMEC reported a total of 3.1 million CyberTip reports by online companies. As for the Norfolk police, the constable said every warrant to search an alleged online child sexual abuse offender’s home that is executed results in the seizure, on average, of 11 devices and 160,000 images.

Global efforts to eradicate child sexual abuse online continue among a range of stakeholders – governments, companies, law enforcement agencies and civil society organizations – and, as several of the conference speakers noted, those collective efforts are taking place under the banner of the WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online, the new organization that joins the U.K.’s WePROTECT Children Online initiative with the Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online, started by the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Union.

Microsoft is honored to be part of the new WePROTECT Global Alliance through our participation on the WePROTECT Global Alliance Advisory Board, the commitments we made in signing the group’s Statement of Action for industry and our own contributions to help protect children in the digital age. To learn more about Microsoft work in combatting the spread of child sexual abuse material online, download our policy fact sheets available here. To learn more about online safety and child online protection generally, visit our website; view our resources; “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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