EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
How far have we come in uniting against child sexual abuse online?
Ministerial conference of the Global Alliance against child sexual abuse online
Washington, 30 September 2014
Attorney General, Ministers, Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
I am so sorry I cannot be with you in Washington today. The Global Alliance is an initiative very close to my heart and I would therefore like to thank all of you for being in Washington today. And I would in particular like to thank Attorney General Eric Holder and his team for their leadership and for organising this meeting.
As we now look at our common endeavour, this Global Alliance, we must never forget why it was set up in the first place. Children are raped for the sexual satisfaction of criminals. Pictures and videos are taken to document that horror. They are shared, exchanged, exposed, and circulated worldwide.
Other criminals seek these images for their own sexual satisfaction, to make money, or to be accepted into a community of like-minded criminals.
And the abuse and the shame lives on, on the screen of each computer where it appears. Again and again. And children live with the knowledge that they are exposed, degraded and a few clicks away for anyone to see.
This concerns children in all countries and of all backgrounds, but particularly girls, and the most vulnerable. And the criminals come from all countries, from all backgrounds and all social standings.
On a personal level, as a mother, I am truly horrified by the very idea of these crimes. As a politician, I am determined to do all that I can to make a difference. And, as EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, I have tried to find the instruments to do just that.
Already in March 2010 I proposed legislation to fill the gaps in national legislation of EU Member States to ensure the protection of child victims of sexual abuse, facilitate prosecution of offenders, and prevent new crimes.
This call for action was heeded by Europe, and the new legislation was adopted very quickly. Changes were made in the criminal codes of each EU Member State.
But it became obvious that the fight against such crimes cannot be done by any single country or union. This is when I realised that there were others who were willing and able to carry out change. And who knew that we had to act together.
One of them was U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder who was also trying to fight this terrible crime. We discussed, and our ideas converged. We already had international treaties, administrative structures and organisations. What we still needed was a constant reminder of our responsibilities and a clear political commitment to do more.
You know the rest of the story. Within months of tabling this idea, Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs from all over the world had responded to the call, and had said, ‘yes, we want to use our power, our influence, to change things – yes, we want to do more to protect children from sexual abuse online.
Less than two years ago the Global Alliance against child sexual abuse online was launched. Ministers committed themselves and their countries to four objectives – getting better at identifying child victims, to prosecute criminals, to raise awareness about the problem, and to reduce the availability of child sexual abuse material.
Each one within their means, their legal framework and their national structures.
All of you have embraced the cause of the Global Alliance. And I am happy that new countries have joined in less than two years: Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Costa Rica, Israel, Kosovo, and Mexico.
There are countries of the Global Alliance from many parts of the world, and we expect more to come.
And most important of all, is that the Global Alliance is delivering. Countries have been adopting policies and have taken concrete measures that make a difference.
Some have adopted legislation criminalising the possession of child sexual abuse images, thus closing gaps for prosecutors. Others have set up children’s support centres to ensure that victims of sexual abuse do not suffer further trauma at the hands of bureaucracy.
Others have made victim identification an integral part of their investigation procedures, where it otherwise was not – in plain terms, this means that the goal of an investigation, first and foremost, is not to ‘close a case’, but to rescue a child.
Some have increased their participation in international police operations. Others have improved cooperation with industry, while others have stepped up action to make children aware of the risks of falling prey to groomers and to empower them. I could go on and on with examples. And all this, in less than two years.
I hope that the Global Alliance can keep its momentum. It has mobilised resources and has prompted domestic decisions to change things. Now we need to continue to pursuing the policy targets
And we need the Global Alliance has to expand its constituency. Currently it counts 54 Members. That is an impressive figure but 142 countries are still not members of the Global Alliance.
The Global Alliance has to have the ability to react to the trends and threats that we see in the real world, and to adapt responses to them.
Finally the Global Alliance must work with actors beyond governments more closely. Child sexual abuse online is made possible by criminals using the online infrastructure, which is mostly privately owned.
The Internet industry is crucial for helping to achieve the policy targets of the Global Alliance. They can work with authorities in developing new tools to better identify child victims of sexual abuse online. They can ensure that evidence of crimes is available so that investigations can proceed and criminals can be arrested, even when they extend across jurisdiction and across national borders.
They can raise the awareness of children of the dangers of falling prey to groomers, and they have an important role to play in curbing the availability of child sexual abuse material online.
Dear Attorney Generals, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen. I do not wish to take up more of your time so let me conclude. As you may know, my mandate as EU Commissioner for Home Affairs is coming to an end.
Let me just express my profound gratitude to all of you for having joined forces to protect our children from the hideous crimes of sexual abuse. I am confident that our Alliance, our legacy, will live on.
When we last met, I believe I said that even if we only save one more child from abuse, the Global Alliance has made a difference. Well, I can safely say that our international cooperation in the past years has meant that we have rescued many more.
Let us now take that to heart, as a reassurance that we are on the right track, and as an inspiration to do more. Our children deserve nothing less.
I thank you all so much for being present today.