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10 ways to prevent child sexual exploitation online

The digital environment has become a substantial part of young people's daily lives. Online spaces can offer tremendous benefits in fostering socialisation, learning opportunities and creative outlets. However, the internet also presents serious risks, that many young people using the internet may not be aware of. Online platforms have the power to establish the necessary conditions to create a safer digital environment for young people, and to ensure a positive online experience for their users. The following is an outline of best practices for online platforms.

1. Parental guidance from NGOs

  • Easily accessible tips on how parents can protect their children on the platform.
  • Make it mandatory for parents to be part of the registration process.

2. Education in schools and media

  • Children in schools must be educated on what child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are to recognise signs of danger. School curriculums must be adjusted to teach about safety risks online, and to equip young people with the basic knowledge on how to safely navigate the digital environment, such as how to recognise signs of grooming, the risks of self-generated content, and sextortion.
  • Media outlets reporting on CSAM must focus on providing resources to educate readers instead of providing gruesome details and scaring them.

Tip for online platforms: Ensure that resources are easy to find. E.g. a quick access guide to understanding grooming.

3. Safety by Design

  • Create platforms with inbuilt safeguards, and prioritise a child-centred approach.
  • Establish varying types of accesses for users of different ages.
  • Ensure that people contacting (young) users from anonymous accounts are automatically blocked instead of automatically approved.

4. Legislation with concrete sentences

  • Advocate for increased sentences, and create robust legislation to deter harmful behaviour.
  • We must work to globally criminalise child trafficking and child marriage and then follow through on prosecuting offenders.

Tip for online platforms: As a large platform you have the power to make a difference. Advocate for increased sentences, create robust legislation to deter harmful behaviour and speak up publicly against the minimisation of offences.

5. Economic awareness and intervention

  • It is critical to realise that those who consume child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are usually not the same who produce it. Understanding their incentives is key to tackling this behaviour. Financial incentives are often linked to CSAM production.

6. Local presence

  • National Safer Internet Centres provide the public with three services: awareness-raising of online safety issues, a helpline contact for children to seek help and advice, and a local hotline processing reports of suspected CSAM.
  • Thinking ahead means providing the resources needed to support long-term change: use your platform to promote local hotlines.

7. Public service announcements

  • The role of media is to make people aware of real dangers. You can provide credits to NGOs so that they can inform about CSAM, and educate about online risks, for instance by providing resources on self-generated content, sextortion and signs of grooming online.

Tip for online platforms: As a big platform, you have the attention of the masses. Use this perk for good by raising awareness about digital safety issues.

8. Tackling trends

  • We live in an ever-changing technological environment and with each new tech solution comes a new way to abuse it. Instead of waiting, for bad actors to strike first, we need to proactively think about how new technology might be abused and take necessary preventative action steps.
  • Mistakes and oversights happen, but a lack of action is not acceptable. If you notice an emerging trend, be proactive!

9. Reduce access, reduce consumption

  • Quick removal is essential. Leaving harmful content online only results in further distribution of that content. It is critical that hosting providers implement strict rules regarding the tackling of bad actors and enable cross-organisation knowledge-sharing on bad actors to facilitate the quick elimination of harmful users.
  • Incentivise a clean internet, by implementing fines for unresponsive hosts.

10. Stop the abuse before it starts

  • Prevent potential offenders from hiding in the dark, by bringing light to the situation. To tackle the production, consumption and distribution of CSAM we provide resources to people with a sexual interest in children to prevent them from becoming offenders.
  • Provide preventative resources to at-risk users in the grey area who depict signs of potentially harmful behaviour.

Any young person using the internet is vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. But more often than not minors and their parents are not entirely aware of the potential risks they face online. As an online platform, you have the power to facilitate safer experiences for all your users, especially the youngest. Implementing digital safeguards and creating platforms that are safe by design can prevent abuse.

It is well known that prevention is considered better than cure. Meaning that it's easier to stop something than repair the damage after it has happened, which is particularly important in tackling child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual abuse material (CSAM). When it comes to CSA and CSAM, prevention is not only about stopping something before it happens it is also about creating alternative ways to tackle the problem. Share this resource with your community and spread the word this month. Check out our additional resources here:

“This campaign is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the European Education and Culture Executive Agency can be held responsible for them.” 

10 ways to prevent child sexual exploitation online

Prevention is always better than the cure. When it comes to CSAM prevention is not only about stopping abuse before it happens, it is about creating alternative ways to tackle the problem.