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The Next Step in Child Protection: The Global Alliance Against Sexual Child Abuse Online

A perspective on the steps that have been taken toward protecting children from online sexual abuse, as well as the new push for the Global Alliance Against Sexual Child Abuse Online initiative and its projections for the future.

The protection of children, particularly from sexual abuse, has always been at the heart of world global justice issues.  However, as technology continues to evolve, we face bigger problems and our solutions diminish in the face of the internet.  To adapt, the United States continues to enact policies meant to combat child sexual abuse online.  In light of “popular social networking sites such as MySpace, [and] Facebook . . . it [has been] easier for teens to post and share personal information, pictures and videos, which may make them more vulnerable to online predators.”[1]  In 2007, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales stated that “the Internet is one of the greatest technological advances of our time, but it also makes it alarmingly easy for sexual predators to find and contact children.”[2]

Our responsibility is to protect children wherever they live and to bring criminals to justice wherever they operate.”
But these new challenges have not caused governments to just give up:

Recent episodes in different parts of the world, in which minors were the main victims, have moved Internet regulation to the forefront of the policy agenda, requiring a more coordinated approach that could involve not only national governmental participants, but also supranational organizations, industry and nongovernmental organizations at the same table.[3]

This new approach appeared recently in a ministerial conference held in Brussels on December 5, 2012.[4]  At this conference, Attorney General Eric Holder along with Cecilia Malmstrὅm, the European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs, launched the Global Alliance Against Sexual Child Abuse Online (“Global Alliance”).[5]  This alliance begins “[an] initiative [that] aims to unite decision-makers all around the world to better identify and assist victims and to prosecute the perpetrators.”[6]  It is a fresh approach to combating child sexual abuse on the internet and has already generated hope for the future of child safety online. Inevitably, it has also raised speculation about whether this new approach will be effective, leading us to look at what we can do as individuals to participate in this fight.[7]  There are 27 European Union states that have been joined by 22 states outside the EU, “including Albania, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Ghana, Japan, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Serbia, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United States and Vietnam.”[8]

The Global Alliance is an enormous stepping stone, as it has become ever more apparent that “[n]o country can fight this horrible phenomena alone.”[9]  Cecelia Malmstrὅm explained, “[b]ehind 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.”[10]  With this worldwide effort to combat child sexual abuse online, we will be able to exert more resources in order to diffuse the enormity of this problem.  The Global Alliance has set forth a number of goals.  Notably, it will focus its energies on

[e]nhancing efforts to identify victims and ensuring that they receive the necessary assistance, support, and protection; enhancing efforts to investigate cases of child sexual abuse online and to identify and prosecute offenders; [i]ncreasing children’s awareness of online risks, including the self-production of images and ‘grooming’ methods used by paedophiles, [along with] reducing the availability of child abuse material online and the re-victimization of children.[11]

They are lofty and admirable goals but, unfortunately, it is unclear how the Alliance hopes to achieve them.

Apart from the goals the Alliance has laid out and committed to pursue, there has been no further discussion as to how participating countries will put these goals into action. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “countries would then choose the appropriate action to take at national level to achieve [these goals], and would report regularly.”[12]  This path may appear necessary because

reaching international agreement on legally binding rules is desirable but will be a challenge to achieve and, even then, will not be achieved rapidly. Even if such agreement is reached, it will not be enough in itself to ensure implementation of the rules or to ensure protection of those at risk.[13]

While at first the proposed individualized approach seems appealing in the sense that each country can take individualized steps in order to ensure that they are moving towards fulfillment of the Global Alliance’s goals, what results is a lack of cohesion that may be problematic. An individual agenda may act as a barrier and prevent countries from attacking the issue of sexual abuse online with ample force. The lack of a governing set of rules causes there to be no way to know how the participating countries will be regulated in actively pursuing the Alliance’s goals based on the fact that each country has entered into the Alliance voluntarily. The Alliance has set forth a guideline of loosely constructed goals and the participating countries may need more structure in order to continue to be motivated to combat such a vast problem. If a country’s individual method proves unsuccessful, the country altogether may feel as though their effort makes no difference and pull out, in turn defeating the purpose of the Alliance to bring countries together to more effectively attack child sexual abuse online.

The United States has been successful in many of its past initiatives such as Project Safe Childhood which was launched in 2006, “marshal[ling] federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims.”[14].  That same year “the Department of Justice prosecuted 1,543 cases involving the sexual exploitation or abuse of children.”[15]  More recently in November of 2012, Google joined the AMBER Alert Network.  This collaboration between private and public entities shows an effort of the United States to truly come together to pursue a common goal of “securing the safety of America’s children.”[16] With more steps like the successful ones the United States has taken, we hope that the new Global Alliance between 49 countries can lead to further empowerment of the common goal of global child safety.

 


[1] Current Awareness: From the United States Department of Justice, CYBERCRIME LAW REPORT, NO. 8 CYBERCRLR 5 (2007).

[2] Id.

[3] Federica Casarosa, Protection of Minors Online: Available Regulatory Approaches, 14 No. 9 J. Internet L. 25, 25 (2011) (discussing risk to minors from internet and regulatory approaches).

[4] U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER AND HIGH-LEVEL OFFICIAL LAUNCH GLOBAL ALLIANCE AGAINST CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE ONLINE (2012). http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/December/12-ag-1438.html.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Lisa Vaas, 48 countries join forces for biggest-ever fight against online child sex abuse, NAKED SECURITY (Feb. 25, 2013, 8:00PM), http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2012/12/06/fight-online-child-sex-abuse/

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] See CASAROSA, supra note 3, at 29.

[14] Current Awareness: From the United States Department of Justice, supra note 1

[15] Id.

[16] Tracy Russo, Google Joins the AMBER Alert Network, U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE: THE JUSTICE BLOG (Jan. 31, 2013, 9:20 AM), http://blogs.justice.gov/main/archives/2541