The closing conference of the Council of Europe’s project to End Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Protect Children participated in the closing conference of the Council of Europe’s project to End Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (OCSEA) @ Europe. The conference consisted of three webinars discussing themes around the added value of the Lanzarote and Budapest Conventions in tackling crimes of OCSEA, progress made at international but also national levels with regards to effective legislation and policies, the current data and what can be done in order to protect children against OCSEA.  

On the topic of Lanzarote and Budapest Conventions and their applicability to OCSEA crimes, the vice-chair to the Lanzarote committee, Maria José Castello-Branco pointed out how the current pandemic has increased drastically OCSEA highlighting the further need for working together and stepping up the ongoing projects. The members of the Lanzarote Committee underlined the importance of collaboration and prevention and the importance of child participation and the need to better understand children’s behavior related to sharing images online. The secretariat to the Lanzarote Committee, Ms Faustine Labbadi noted the lack of awareness of reporting mechanisms and children feeling that the sexual education they receive is not comprehensive enough. 

The conference continued with Council of Europe independent expert, Victoria Baines introducing general facts and figures related to the OCSEA in member states and how the stats clearly show the importance of the need for resources.  The Vice President of Exploited Children Division at The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), John Shehan shared the data and trends and the total of 1.6 million NCMEC CyberTips being destined to member states in 2020. According to Shehan, some member states faced an increase of nearly 400% in NCMEC CyberTips in 2020, while others saw reductions of more than 40%.  Shehan introduced statistics indicating a substantial increase in CyberTipLine activity between 2015 and 2020. In February 2021, NCMEC grew the Exploitative Hash sharing list from 6500 files to over 138 000 files representing 364 identified victim series. It is important to bring to notice, that since the new ePrivacy Directive came into force, there has been a 53% decrease in the number of reports made to NCMEC. 

The last part of the webinar focused on providing parents, carers and professionals with the strategies and skills to empower young users in the digital environment through an interactive discussion with three Council of Europe independent experts: Susanna Greijer, Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen and Elizabeth Milovidov. The experts used, as an example, the world of ‘Kiko and the Manymes’ tools in their presentations, describing how these tools can be used to discuss and raise awareness of the online safety and discussing aims to raise the awareness of adults on their responsibility towards young children.  

Greijer’s presentation addressed different types of child rights violations online including exposure to age-inappropriate content, grooming and sexual extortion as well as indirect risks related to increased times spent online.  Milovidov highlighted parental responsibility in teaching children online safety focusing on parent-child joint quality time and trustworthy conversations.  Protect Children’s Executive Director, Senior Specialist Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen agreed with other speakers and reminded the audience about early education, prevention and protection and the balance with children’s use of digital devices. She also pointed out that adults are often too late in teaching digital safety skills to children. Through her long career in the field, she has seen the increase of online crimes of sexual violence against children as well as the increase of CSAM as the technology develops. Vaaranen-Valkonen highlighted how it is vital, even though challenging, to work with potential child sexual offenders in order to prevent sexual violence in the first place. Vaaranen-Valkonen spoke about the concept of a “digital native” being a myth and underlined the need for further longitudinal research on the effects the increased digital everyday life has on children. 

Katariina Leivo

Specialist in Developmental Psychology, Protect Children

katariina.leivo(a)suojellaanlapsia.fi