Framing child sexual abuse and exploitation online as a form of human trafficking: opportunities, challenges, and implications

International Justice Mission, WeProtect Global Alliance – Briefing

September 1, 2021

Expert Roundtable Outcomes Briefing, Hosted on 29th June 2021 by WeProtect Global Alliance and International Justice Mission’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children. The event was affiliated to the Together to #ENDViolence Solutions Summit Series.

A group of experts was brought together for a virtual roundtable to better understand how child trafficking for sexual purposes and child sexual exploitation and abuse online overlap; and to explore the opportunities, challenges, and implications of framing some online exploitation crimes as a form of trafficking.

Mapping the way forward

The fast-changing pace of technology across the world presents challenges for those interpreting laws and trying to prevent the exploitation and abuse of children in a digital age. How this issue is framed and defined will have important consequences for children and their protection. Therefore, it is vital that further work is done to better understand the evolving nature of online- facilitated exploitation, abuse and trafficking – and the implications for law, policy and practice. Based on the evidence and the roundtable discussion, WeProtect Global Alliance makes the following key recommendations:

  1. Improved legal clarity: Legal and policy reform should be explored to help improve legal clarity in cases of child trafficking and wider offences of child sexual exploitation and abuse that have an online element.
  2. Conduct further research and data to scope the specific gaps, challenges, and good practices referenced at the event: A review of current practice and legislation relating to child trafficking and child sexual exploitation and abuse online, which includes an analysis of restitution, compensation, sentencing and victim support, could provide better data at country level on what works best for children in terms of protection, prevention and justice against sexual offences and trafficking.
  3. Strengthen child protection systems: A child protection response that puts the child’s best interests first is the most important element when a sexual crime has been committed against a child. Improved resourcing of the systems can ensure an improved multi-agency response to child victims of online sexual offences and trafficking.
  4. Increase priority and funding: More political will and resourcing is required to raise the profile of child sexual exploitation and abuse online and to generate the funding necessary to tackle it, including training law enforcement on preserving and presenting evidence in cases with a cyber element.
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