New European proposals show 'welcome determination to front up to criminals' abusing and exploiting children online

Published:  Thu 12 May 2022

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) says new European proposals to combat child sexual abuse online show a “welcome determination to front up to criminals” who have made Europe the “destination of choice” for hosting this content.

On May 11, the European Commission announced its new European strategy for laying down rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse.

The Commission acknowledged child sexual abuse is “pervasive” and said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue, noting the IWF reported a 64% increase in reports of confirmed child sexual abuse in 2021 compared to the previous year.

The proposed rules will require service providers to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse material on their services.

The Commission says service providers will also need to “assess and mitigate the risk of misuse of their services”.

As well as this, a new independent EU Centre on Child Sexual Abuse (EU Centre) will act as a “hub of expertise”, providing information on identified material, receiving and analysing reports and forwarding them to law enforcement.

Responding to the proposals, Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “These proposals show a welcome determination to front up to the criminals using the internet to groom and sexually abuse children.

“We have long been drawing attention to the issues within Europe as it has become the destination of choice for people seeking to host this content.

“We are pleased to see the proposal announced today brings forward strategies which have the potential to improve this situation, particularly with the introduction of mandatory detection for known Child Sexual Abuse Material.

“The scale of child sexual abuse and grooming on the internet is appalling. Our latest data shows it is not a problem which is going away. In 2021 the IWF took action to remove a record-breaking 252,000 URLs containing millions of images or videos of children being raped and abused.

“Of these, 62% (156,300 URLs) included material hosted on servers in EU member states. As well as this, we’ve seen a shocking 374% rise in so-called self-generated content made after children have been groomed and coerced by predators into abusing themselves, friends, or siblings, often in their own homes and bedrooms. Places they should be safe.

“We are pleased to see Brussels taking a stand against this tide of abuse directed at the most vulnerable. We hope the Commission’s proposal will have a real impact on the problem and we are looking forward to helping them make sure the internet is a safe place for everybody.”

Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs at the European Commission, said: “As adults, it is our duty to protect children.

“Child sexual abuse is a real and growing danger: not only is the number of reports growing, but these reports today concern younger children.”

She added: “Detection, reporting and removal of child sexual abuse online is also urgently needed to prevent the sharing of images and videos of the sexual abuse of children, which retraumatises the victims often years after the sexual abuse has ended.

“Today's proposal sets clear obligations for companies to detect and report the abuse of children, with strong safeguards guaranteeing privacy of all, including children.”

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