The emphasis of the webinar was on transnational cooperation and its important role in fighting child sexual abuse, particularly in online environments. A wide range of organisations working to prevent child sexual abuse and alleviate the harm it may cause participated. Representatives from different organisations introduced their knowledge, skills, and applications for tackling the problem. The webinar received plenty of positive feedback.
The first part of the webinar focused on the significance of hotline work and the role of different actors in removing illegal material from the internet. The webinar was opened by Riitta Hyytinen, Director of Domestic Programme from Save the Children Finland (SCF). Senior Advisor Tanja Simola from SCF Child Protection and Finnish Hotline Nettivihje went on to explain the work of the Finnish Hotline. The hotline analyses reports and conducts awareness-raising and advocacy work for preventing child sexual abuse. The Executive Director of INHOPE (the International Association of Internet Hotlines), Denton Howard, highlighted the importance of international cooperation in combatting online CSAM (child sexual abuse material) in his presentation. As the internet has no borders and material might be located anywhere, the problem should also be handled internationally. Detective Chief Inspector Jyri Hiltunen from the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation clarified the role of police in handling the reports and explained what kind of means the police have to combat child sexual abuse online.
Guillermo Galarza Abizaid, Vice President of Partnerships and Law Enforcement Training, International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) noted that the homeschooling and quarantines brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that children spend more time online. This in turn makes them more vulnerable to grooming. Technology has an important role in the struggle against CSAM and Stephen Sauer, Director of Cybertip.ca from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection Inc., reported the importance of removing the material from the internet; the victims’ suffering is prolonged as the evidence of their abuse is viewed online. Also, corporate responsibility was discussed as Telia Finland’s Sustainability Manager, Ira Vainio, introduced the methods used by a network service provider to ensure children’s rights are protected online. She also stressed the importance of involving children in the service development process.
Psychologist and Doctoral Student Aino Juusola spoke about a report produced by Save the Children Finland. The study was directed to children aged 11 to 17 and received 1,762 responses. In conclusion, she pointed out the importance of education and information to children and professionals working with children about sexual abuse and grooming. Internet Content Analyst, Susan Stather from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), shared insights into self-generated images, in which children are groomed to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam and the offender records and then shares the videos online. One concerning phenomenon of self-generated CSAM is sibling abuse, where the abuser manipulates a child to perform sexual acts against a sibling.
Support and help play an important role in handling sexual abuse. Sini Vehkaoja, Psychologist, Treatment Coordinator, Barnahus project and Forensic Psychologist from HUS Forensic Psychology Center for Children and Adolescents, told participants how to hear, encounter, and act in a situation where a child discloses that they have experienced sexual abuse. She noted that a professional who faces the child must be able to confront the child and the situation with openness, and not lead a child’s story towards their own preconceptions.
To prevent child abuse, it is also necessary to offer help for those who are sexually attracted to children. Mikkel Rask Pedersen, MSc PhD-student from Aarhus University and Save the Children Denmark, spoke about peer-support forums, where the moral boundaries of living a life with a sexual attraction towards children are discussed, and about how important it is to understand these people to help them live a life without offending children.
The webinar ended with Paula Marjomaa, Development Director, Domestic Program of Save the Children Finland, talking about the importance of fighting against child sexual abuse globally. She further clarified the importance of international and diverse cooperation. Many different actors in the field of child protection support and complete each other’s work, and this highly important cooperation must be valued and continued.
Find out more about the work of the Finnish Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.