Preventing Child Sexual Abuse, an Academy of European Law Conference

Protect Children participated in the “Preventing Child Sexual Abuse” – conference, hosted by the Academy of European Law. The aim of the conference was to discuss and assess the current legal and other measures in use to combat child sexual abuse, as well as to discuss intervention programs and raising awareness on the matter.  

The Protect Children Executive Director, Senior Specialist Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen represented our organization with a presentation on our innovative ReDirection project, also sharing some of the preliminary results from the “Help us to help you” – survey (N=2 750) that we are conducting on the Darkweb for persons seeking to access CSAM as part of the project.  

The fight against child sexual abuse online needs wide collaboration across multiple sectors. The conference showcased a fine example of a multi professional range of speakers and different groups of expertise coming together to discuss the topic. Representatives were present from the European Commission, from academic, legal, and psychiatric fields, as well as from law enforcement and NGO’s. 

Despite varying presentations, some topics were discussed in each one, one of which was the clear need for stronger preventative measuresIn order to effectively do this, there is a need for further research into the potential sexual offenders / actual offenders and users of CSAM. The data collected with our ReDirection research survey will enable the possibility for us to create a new, more efficient self-help program for people who search, use and distribute online CSAM.  

 As technology has so gravely impacted child sexual abuse, the fight against the crimes is more reliant on technology than ever. The challenges posed by end-to-end encryption offered by major social media and communications platforms was brought up, but it was the European Electronic Communications Code ePrivacy directive which entered into force on December 21st 2020 that sparked the most debate. The US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) recorded a 46% drop in CyberTipline reports within the EU in the three weeks following the entering into force of the directive. While multiple NGO’s and other groups fighting for children’s safety online are calling for a Temporary Derogation to the directive in order to allow the effective use of all technologies to prevent child sexual abuse online, an agreement on the institutional level has still not been reached.  

Finally, we find the conversation about the importance of terminology absolutely vital, and importantly it was brought up by every speaker. We at Protect Children strongly advocate for the use correct terminology, that also respects the rights of the child. We firmly believe that words matter and that the term “child pornography” violates the rights of the child and fails to acknowledge the gravity of the crimes. We need to call it what it is, it is a crime scene and there is a real child in every image. Let’s call is as it is – child sexual abuse material (CSAM). 

We heard from Antonio Labrador Jimenez, Team Leader, Fight Against Child Sexual Abuse, Unit D.4: Cybercrime, DG for Migration and Home Affairs, European Commission, Alisdair Gillespie, Professor, Criminal Law and Justice, Lancaster University, Mike Smyth, Detective Sergeant, National Online Child Exploitation Unit, Garda National Protective Services Bureau, Celine Verheijen, Project coordinator children´s rights and sexual exploitation, Defence for Children /ECPAT The Nederland Christoffer Rahm, Researcher, Karolinska Institute Sweden, Denton Howard, Executive Director, INHOPE, as well as from Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen, Executive Director, Senior Specialist, Protect Children. 

Matilda Sandvik, LL.M. Candidate, Intern, Protect Children  

Anna Ovaska, Legal Specialist, Protect Children