Commission adopts strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is a growing threat, both online and offline. To counter this phenomenon, the European Commission (EC) adopted an EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse on Friday, 24 August 2020.

The strategy was announced by Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs, as part of the European Commission's Security Union Strategy, along with proposals on drugs and firearms trafficking. It establishes a framework for EU action for the period 2020-2025, to provide a comprehensive response to the issue of child sexual abuse, both online and offline.

Concretely, the document presents eight initiatives making use of all tools available at EU level, to implement and develop the right legal framework to protect children, strengthen the law enforcement response, and facilitate a coordinated approach across the many actors involved in protecting and supporting children.

Ensuring the complete implementation of the current legislation, particularly of Directive 2011/93/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, for which some gaps remain in the areas of prevention, criminal law and assistance, support and protection measures for child victims.

Ensuring that EU legislation enables an effective response. Notably, the EC will assess whether the above-mentioned Directive needs to be updated. The fight against child sexual abuse will also be pursued through other legal documents – such as the e-commerce Directive, the e-privacy Directive (to be replaced by the proposed Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications), the Digital Services Act – as well as through the Europol mandate.

Identifying legislative gaps, best practices and priority actions. The EC will launch an assessment of whether the current EU legislation adequately solves the issues it seeks to address, and whether there are new issues in relation to these crimes that are insufficiently taken into account in existing legislation – for example, the online aspects of child sexual abuse, especially the challenges posed by encryption and anonymity.

Strengthening law enforcement efforts at national and EU level. At national level, the EC recommends that Member States put in place specialised units that are properly equipped and staffed with well-trained officers, as well as victim identification teams, as part of their national police structures. The EC will also support the development of national capacities to keep up with technological developments through the Internal Security Fund and through Horizon 2020. To facilitate Member States' access to technical tools and knowledge developed at EU level, Europol will set up an Innovation Hub and Lab.

Enabling Member States to better protect children through prevention, which the EC will facilitate by establishing a pan-European network of researchers and practitioners. This network will support Member States in their prevention efforts towards offenders, parents and carers, schools, and children themselves.

Establishing a European centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse, which would provide holistic support to Member States, ensure coordination, and avoid the duplication of efforts. The centre's functions would cover law enforcement, prevention and assistance to victims.

Encouraging industry efforts to ensure the protection of children in their products. In particular, the EC has, via the EU Internet Forum, launched an assessment of possible technical solutions to detect and report child sexual abuse in end-to-end encrypted electronic communications.

Improving the protection of children globally through multi-stakeholder cooperation, especially through the WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online.

For more information, visit the Commission's website, and read the communication for a strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse.

Through the Insafe-INHOPE network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs), hotlines play a key role in the fight against child sexual abuse by preventing the (re-)circulation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For more information about their work, visit the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal and INHOPE website.

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