25 November 2021
Today, on 25 November 2021, we come together to raise awareness about violence against women and girls around the world and call for stronger global commitments to end gender-based violence. At Protect Children, we advocate for supporting and empowering survivors of sexual violence, especially child sexual abuse and exploitation, and implementing preventative measures to stop violence before it occurs.
‘The Shadow Pandemic’
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an upsurge in violence against women and girls, including intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and child marriage. Additionally, there has been a rise in gender-based digital violence, as time spent online has increased. Such digital violence includes the creation, distribution, and use of child sexual abuse material (CSAM); non-consensual sharing of intimate images; cyberstalking; online trafficking; and sexual harassment and exploitation. Women and girls with access to the internet face online violence more often than men.
Facts & Figures
Intimate partner violence: during the pandemic, reports of intimate partner violence have risen globally. Calls to helplines have increased up to 5x in certain countries.
Trafficking in women and girls: two thirds of anti-trafficking workers reported seeing an increase in online recruitment by traffickers for the purpose of sexual exploitation online during the pandemic.
Female genital mutilation: 2 million additional girls will undergo female genital mutilation before 2030 due to COVID-19. 4 million girls annually are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation.
Child marriage: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the everyday lives of girls: their physical and mental health, their education, and the economic circumstances of their families and communities. Such changes increase the likelihood of child marriage. Over the next decade, an estimated 10 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides as a result of the pandemic.
Particularly vulnerable women and girls: while gender-based violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable. For example, young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees, indigenous women and ethnic minorities, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.
Protecting Children from Gender-Based Sexual Violence
In Protect Children’s recent survey of individuals who view child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) on the dark web, we found that a majority of users view images depicting the sexual abuse of young girls. Additionally, girls have been found to be at higher risk of being depicted in child sexual abuse imagery.
Girls are at high risk of being subject to sexual abuse and exploitation online, and this particular vulnerability must be acknowledged in the adoption of crime prevention and child protection measures.
Protect Children specialists, Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen and Anna Ovaska, are members of the national Organizational Working Group under the Commission on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. The Working Group supports the implementation of the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence).
It is a fundamental human right of women and girls to feel safe and live free of violence in all spaces, including in digital spaces. Ensuring the full realisation of this human right is of utmost importance.
Protect Children works hard to ensure that all children are protected from sexual violence online and offline.