WeProtect Global Alliance, a global movement of more than 200 governments, private sector companies and civil society organisations working together to transform the global response to child sexual exploitation and abuse online, has published its 2021 Global Threat Assessment.
The assessment’s findings show the scale of child sexual exploitation and abuse online is increasing at such a rapid rate that a step change is urgently required in global response to create safe online environments for children.
According to the assessment, the reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse online has reached its highest levels to date in the past two years, with the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) alone processing 60,000 reports of child sexual abuse online every day.
2021 Global Threat Assessment report by WeProtect Global Alliance calls for a step change in the global response to worldwide issue
In the Arab world, almost one in two respondents (44%) from the Middle East and North Africa to WeProtect Global Alliance’s international Economist Impact survey reported experiencing online sexual harm in childhood. While the MENA percentage is one of the lowest in the world, it remains a key issue requiring urgent attention.
The assessment also highlights the Covid-19 pandemic as an undeniable contributor to the spike in reported incidents. The rise in child ‘self-generated’ sexual material is another trend that challenges existing response models, with the Internet Watch Foundation observing a 77% increase in child ‘self-generated’ sexual material from 2019 to 2020.
COVID-19 has contributed to a significant spike in child sexual exploitation and abuse online
Iain Drennan, Executive Director of WeProtect Global Alliance, says: “The internet has become central to children’s lives across the world, even more so as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past two years, we have observed an increase in the scale and complexity of child sexual abuse online. This report should act as a wake-up call to us all. Together we must step up the global response and create a safer digital world for all children.”
The 2021 Global Threat Assessment report details the scale and scope of the threat of child sexual exploitation online and aims to encourage action on the issue to reduce the risk to children and prevent abuse before it happens.
The three main insights of the report are:
- The scale and complexity of child sexual exploitation and abuse are increasing and outstripping the global capacity to respond.
- Prevention needs to be prioritised. While strong law enforcement and judicial response are essential, a truly sustainable strategy must include the active prevention of abuse. There is a need to ensure the creation of safe online environments where children can thrive.
- To tackle this complex, global issue, everyone with a role to protect children online need to work together to dramatically improve the response. There is reason to be hopeful with child sexual exploitation and abuse moving up the global agenda, online safety technology becoming more accessible and advanced, and governments doing more to act.
Almost 1 in 2 respondents (44%) from the Middle East & North Africa respondents to the global Economist Impact survey experienced sexual harm online at least once during childhood
As part of the report, a global study of childhood experiences completed by Economist Impact canvassed more than 5,000 young adults (aged 18 to 20) across 54 countries. More than one in three respondents (34%) had been asked to do something sexually explicit online they were uncomfortable with during their childhood.
Also included in the report was a survey of technology companies that showed most are using tools to detect child sexual abuse material (87% use image ‘hash-matching’), but only 37% currently use tools to detect online grooming.
WeProtect Global Alliance’s Global Strategic Response (GSR) provides a global strategy to eliminate child sexual exploitation and abuse, calling for greater voluntary cooperation, transparency, and implementation of online safety technologies, greater regulation to make online environments safer for children, and increased investment in law enforcement.
“We consider the launch of the Global Threat Assessment report 2021 as an opportunity to reflect and prioritise efforts and engage with the international community and share our experiences and practices. This report can be used by governments to guide their efforts. The challenge of sexual exploitation and abuse online is a crime of global magnitude and requires collaborative and multi-disciplinary efforts to combat and end it,” said Lt Col. Dana Humaid, Director General of the International Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Interior of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).