Child sexual abuse is pervasive and common to all societies. 18% of girls and 8% of boys experience sexual violence in childhood . Of course, the statistics only tell part of the story. Less than 50% of all sexual assaults on children are actually reported to the police and the average time between abuse occurring and victims disclosing their experience is 22 years. Technology-assisted abuse now threatens to overwhelm governments, law enforcement and civil society in their efforts to protect children.
Rapid advances in communication technology and internet connectivity have contributed to an unprecedented growth in online child sexual exploitation and abuse. It is now a global industry, exploiting and abusing children for profit. The scale is truly shocking. In 2018 technology companies reported over 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused – more than double what was reported the previous year.
To compound the issue, the relative anonymity of many internet platforms and the continuing growth of the dark web has created an opaque network of producers and consumers of abuse material. This network is borderless and fluid in its structure, but it does display a number of characteristics. Over 65% of child sexual abuse imagery is hosted in Europe and, whilst child abuse is an international phenomenon, the production of certain types of material – such as live streaming – is concentrated in hub countries like the Philippines.
Online child sexual exploitation and abuse is the most widespread, coordinated and commercialised threat to children’s rights today. The success of our collective response to this threat will rest on our willingness to cooperate and create borderless solutions that have the speed and agility to face down a truly global network of abuse.
Since HDF was established, we have worked with partners to address the root causes of child sexual abuse within families and communities. In the sunset phase HDF is focusing on the scourge of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, with a particular focus on identifying and rescuing victims and disrupting the supply of online child abuse material.