Child sexual abuse survivors from Kent urge tech companies to act now and make products safe

Campaign for online safety

A global coalition of more than 100 sexual abuse survivors, families and child safety experts have demanded tech companies act now to make sure their platforms are safe for children.

The letter to tech bosses was spearheaded by a survivor who was sexually abused via encrypted messaging app WhatsApp as a 13-year-old.

It has been signed by 43 survivors of online child sexual abuse and 61 global child safety organisations and academics.

It urges companies to engage with survivors to assess the child safety risks of new and current products, including end-to-end encrypted messaging services.

One of the signatories, 27-year-old Kent resident Danielle, is an online safety campaigner.

She said: “I was only 14 when a man groomed me online pretending to be a teenager. He made me trust him and I arranged to meet him. By the time I realised he was actually 49, it was too late and he sexually assaulted me.

“It had serious consequences on my mental health and my entire family suffered – it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. I should have been kept safe online. We need this new law to protect all children and teenagers using the internet.”

‘Ruined my life’

Another Kent signatory is Eleanor, who had photos shared without her consent online.

She said: “I was 14 when I was tricked into sharing photos with someone I trusted. They were shared around my school and it ruined my life. My hair started falling out and I was diagnosed with stress, anxiety and school-phobia.

“I moved schools but the problem followed me – there is no escape once it’s online. That’s why this new law is so important, it could have protected me and stopped all that happening. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through”.

The letter has been sent to executives at tech platforms including Mark Zuckerberg at Meta, Evan Spiegel at Snap, Meredith Whittaker at Signal and Tim Cook at Apple.

Other signatories include Phoenix 11, a collective of survivors whose child sexual abuse was recorded and distributed online, and survivors who work directly with the NSPCC as online safety campaigners.

Organisations who signed include The Alliance to Counter Crime Online, Barnardo’s, The Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Collective Shout, ECPAT International, Eurochild and The Network for Children’s Rights amongst others.

Rise in grooming offences

The powerful testimony comes as online grooming crimes against children in the UK have risen by 82% in the last 5 years. And there has been a 66% increase in child abuse image offences recorded by UK police over 5 years.

Data from police forces in London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire shows 5,636 Sexual Communication with a Child offences were recorded in London and the South East since 2017/18, when the offence came into force.

For Kent the data shows recorded sexual Communication with a child offences :

Police Force2017/182018/192019/202020/212021/222022/23Total
Kent1221401762241792301071

Countries across the globe are currently legislating to protect children from sexual abuse online, including in messaging apps and end-to-end encrypted services.

In the UK, the Online Safety Bill could be passed tomorrow (Tuesday 19th September) in Parliament. Meanwhile in the European Union, charities are coming together this week to support regulation currently being considered to prevent and combat child sexual abuse online.

The coalition says that tackling online abuse needs to be a global effort and tech bosses should not wait for regulation to begin work to make their platforms safer.

It adds that companies must accept upcoming legislation and begin work to ensure their products protect the safety and privacy rights of all users, including child sexual abuse victims and those at risk of grooming.

Key recommendations

The letter, signed by representatives from 24 countries, sets out three key recommendations that technology companies could implement now to show their commitment to keeping all children safe online including:

  • Seek out the perspectives of users whose rights and safety have been eroded by their products.
  • Commit to not pursuing products or services that harm users unless there are stringent safeguards, informed by the perspectives of survivors, in place first. This includes the rollout of end-to-end encryption.
  • Produce and publish impact assessments which identify who will be adversely impacted by product decisions and what mitigations are in place to uphold their rights and safety.

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO at the NSPCC, said: “It is crucial that legislators use the opportunities they have to give children the protections they deserve online. Meanwhile, tech companies need to be getting ahead of legislation and act now to make their products safe for all users who rely on their services, including children and abuse victims.”

4 Comments

    • I disagree, no one should be able to snoop on me. I would never ever do things like that. Shall we ban electricity because you can hurt & kill with it? Or perhaps cars, heavy objects & frozen peas? No, if those companies want to do awareness campaigns showing how nasty some people are then i’m right behind it.

  1. I have never joined any (anti) social media provider, and never understood those who do! I keep busy, and despite being in my 9th decade, find there are not enough hours in the day, so it seems to me there are a lot of people out there who need to get a life!

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