48 countries join forces for biggest-ever fight against online child sex abuse

Filed Under: Law & order

Child alone, courtesy of ShutterstockForty-eight countries have joined forces to launch the most expansive fight ever against the spread of online child sex abuse.

According to current estimates, there are more than one million images of sexually abused and exploited children now online. Every year, that number grows by 50,000 new images, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The initiative was announced by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström and US Attorney General Eric Holder at the opening of an expert conference in Brussels on 5 December.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Malmström said that behind every one of those images is a victim:

"Behind every child abuse image is an abused child, an exploited and helpless victim. When these images are circulated online, they can live on forever. Our responsibility is to protect children wherever they live and to bring criminals to justice wherever they operate. The only way to achieve this is to team up for more intensive and better coordinated action worldwide."

The participants put out this list of goals for the new initiative, which has been dubbed the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online, in a press release:

  • Enhance efforts to identify victims and ensure that they receive the necessary assistance, support and protection;
  • Enhance efforts to investigate cases of child sexual abuse online and to identify and prosecute offenders;
  • Increase children's awareness of online risks, including the self-production of images and "grooming" methods used by paedophiles;
  • Reduce the availability of child abuse material online and the re-victimization of children;
  • Establish dedicated law enforcement units for these crimes in all countries;
  • Make it easier to initiate joint cross-border police investigations;
  • Intensify co-operation with hotline services, where the public can report findings of online child pornography; and
  • Ensure that the Interpol international database of child abuse material grows by 10 percent annually.

Child abuse images know no boundaries.

Unfortunately, law enforcement efforts to wipe them out and chase after the perpetrators most certainly do. As it now stands, the lack of information exchange and legal loopholes between and within countries can be exploited by pedophile networks.

The difficulties investigators face was illustrated in a Boston Globe report from July.

It's a gut-churning account of the fate of an 18-month-old boy, depicted in an online image as naked from the waist down, terrified, clutching a stuffed bunny for comfort. It details one of the too-rare instances where a pedophile's victim was identified and the pedophile himself arrested and charged, thanks to cross-border co-operation between countries.

The alliance is designed to bolster exactly that type of international cooperation, which is crucial to investigators as they investigate child sexual abuse online and identify and prosecute offenders, Attorney General Holder said during the launch:

"This international initiative will strengthen our mutual resources to bring more perpetrators to justice, identify more victims of child sexual abuse, and ensure that they receive our help and support. … Through this global alliance we can build on the success of previous cross-border police operations that have dismantled international pedophile networks and safeguard more of the world's children."

Also present at the launch were ministers and other high-level officials from the 27 EU member states, as well as 21 countries outside the EU: Albania, Australia, Cambodia, Croatia, Georgia, Ghana, Japan, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Serbia, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the US, and Vietnam.

Upset girl. Image from ShutterstockThe goals of the alliance are laudable. But we can't just leave it all up to law enforcement when it comes to fighting the spread of child porn.

One of the goals of the alliance is to educate children about online risks, including the self-production of images and "grooming" methods used by pedophiles.

There are daily reminders about those risks, whether it's the tragic fate of Amanda Todd, bullied into suicide; parasite porn sites that steal and spread sexual images and videos of young people; or the recent re-emergence of Hunter Moore and his "revenge" porn site, serving the needs of bitter exes.

Educating young people about the dangers of sexting and about being careful about whom they talk to on the internet isn't solely the job of a global alliance of law enforcement.

It's up to all of us.

Child alone and upset girl images, courtesy of Shutterstock.

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8 Responses to 48 countries join forces for biggest-ever fight against online child sex abuse

  1. Jayneen Sanders · 994 days ago

    This is fantastic news! Every picture of a child being abused IS a crime scene! Sexual abuse prevention is also key. Educate you kids now! @JayneenSanders

  2. Sue · 993 days ago

    Yes I like the fact they are all getting together to help. What I dont like is some moron that tells me to like the pictures so they can be saved. I will not now nor ever like a abused child's picture. Facebook didn't think the like thing out very well now did they.

    • Lisa Vaas · 993 days ago

      Good heavens. Sue, who's telling you to like such images? If they're disseminating sex images of children, they could be liable for criminal charges. I'm not sure exactly what you mean with regards to Facebook in particular, as there are so many ways to distribute these images nowadays. I don't think of Facebook as being a dissemination platform that ensures pedophiles will be protected from the law. FB is actually pretty proactive with jumping on suspected predatory behavior, such as employing algorithms that take into account tenuous relationships mixed with big age discrepancy between a given interaction's participants, along with with tip-off vocabulary.

      Wait a minute. Did I just say something nice about Facebook?

      Well, it's Friday.

  3. Bedridden Abdul Al Barten · 993 days ago

    This is a terribly sad topic. It is good news that it is taken seriously by so many countries. Prevention is a good idea but should this not also include the provision of health care in the form psychiatric* services for would be perpetrators? I know no politician would ever suggest such a thing as it would be too unpopular, but unless this is considered we may never get to control this problem and lose the battle in the same way as we have done with the illegal drug problem.

    1000,000 images is a lot are we sure that organised crime is not involved?

    *Any Psychiatrists comment would be appreciated

    • Thomas · 993 days ago

      It is the victims who need intensive psychiatric services. Would be perpetrators rarely seek treatment for their compulsion, and treatment is available if they actually want it bad enough. The perpetrators are beyond treatment and need to be caught and punished. I am generally against the death penalty, but this class of crime is one I would not object to making an exception for the use of the death penalty.

    • Lisa Vaas · 993 days ago

      If organised crime isn't involved yet, it will be soon, they say. The demand is too high for criminals to ignore.

      As far as psychiatric services to prevent victims from growing up to be perpetrators, I think it's a great idea.

      It's a common perception that the abused will more likely than not grow up to be abusers.

      But I found this article (admittedly dated) on WebMD. It's a writeup of a study reported in the Feb. 8, 2003 issue of The Lancet, that says that the risk may be smaller than previously thought.

      From the article:
      "Roughly one in 10 male victims of child sex abuse in a U.K. study later went on to abuse children as adults. But the risk was far greater for sexually victimized children who came from severely dysfunctional families. Family history of violence, sexual abuse by a female, maternal neglect, and lack of supervision were all associated with a threefold-increased risk that the abused would become an abuser."

      So you're undoubtedly right that psychiatric care should be available for victims/potential future perpetrators, but the Lancet-published study would suggest that getting a kid out of a neglectful home environment would be another important way to tackle the problem.

  4. RLM · 993 days ago

    Personally a life sentence without parol sound more appropriate to me. The children will need psychiactic assistance for many many years, but the perpetrators need isolation from society. Once you destroy the innocence of a child it can never be returned, the perpetrator should spend his days considering this and asking God for forgiveness, not working on gaining his freedom again.
    This is a major advancement to have so many assigning resources to combatting this plague. Hopefully the agencies involved will find ways to lower or remove the roadblocks.

  5. Robinhood · 944 days ago

    That's a great 'first step'. Now the law makers need to get to work on updating the laws so that these pedophiles and child rapists do not walk away on technicalities such as 'fourth amendment rights' and 'illegal search' incidents. These matters affect a child forever and it is society's responsibility as a whole to protect all children from predators. When a child's life is in jeopardy, "any and all means as is necessary" should be rendered - even if if impedes the rights of the offender. Too many cases where these pedophiles get off because his rights were infringed upon. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? The protection of a child should ALWAYS come first in cases such as this. If it can be proven that the offender did the crime, then the bastard should face the consequences, despite HOW the evidence was seized. Too many rights belong to the accused - too little belong to the victim.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.