Crossing borders: collaborating for the global protection of children

8 June 2023

By Vicky Young, Senior Helpline Manager at The Lucy Faithfull Foundation

International collaboration is vital to prevent online child sexual abuse because this illegal behaviour knows no borders. It is important that agencies globally continue to share information and coordinate responses to best ensure that online sexual abuse is prevented and children are protected.

This why I was delighted to be invited, alongside Ellen Janssen from Stop It Now! Netherlands, for the 39th Operational Meeting of the INTERPOL Specialists Group on Crimes against Children (SGCAC) in Lyon.

The conference welcomed experts and leaders from all INTERPOL member states to discuss current innovations and techniques to prevent online child sexual abuse. It was a pleasure to be amongst so many global leaders in the field.

How does the Stop It Now! approach prevent online child sexual abuse?

Ellen and I highlighted the need for prevention services that work with people who either offend or have offended in the past. The Stop It Now! approach involves giving anonymous and confidential support to people worried about their sexual thoughts or behaviours towards children. By helping them identify the reasons for their behaviour and motivating them to take action to prevent sexual harm to children, we play an important part in preventing child sexual abuse even if law enforcement is not involved.

The overall presentation represented Stop It Now! initiatives from around the globe which highlighted the scale of child sexual abuse across the world. To illustrate the size of the problem, the NSPCC shared some striking statistics which stated that in the UK there were 30,000 child sexual abuse image offences in 2022 alone, but with only 9,000 people arrested for those same crimes every year.

This supports what we already know: whilst the UK police response to online child sexual abuse is one of the most effective in the world, law enforcement is unable to cope with the problem alone. We also can support people after arrest to help them address the causes of the behaviour and develop strategies to prevent re-offending.

An opportunity for progress

After the presentation, we were pleased to field such a broad range of questions from topics such as social media referrals to how we reduce the suicide risk of those who have offended. We continue to find that a high number of people find out about our services from social media adverts. This is a good way to reach out to people who are not yet known to the police or whose behaviour might not be illegal but risky, leading to possible future offences. Although a lot of our focus is encouraging people to address their offending behaviour, we recognise their mental well-being is vital to being able to do this. That’s why we also support callers through difficult times such as the emotional impact of being arrested and encourage them to seek mental health support.

We were thrilled to receive such a positive response to our work from international law enforcement. In the breakout session, we talked about the role of law enforcement in the Stop It Now! model and we spoke to attendees from across the world including from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Romania, the UK, India, Moldova, Norway and Bolivia. This discussion touched on terminology, motivation for seeking help, and police approaches to address the growth of online offending against children. The debate was so lively that we only managed to get through half of our slides!

It was heartening to hear that around half of the attendees were already aware of our deterrence messaging before the conference. For example, in Norway, the police have contacted 550,000 IP addresses using peer-to-peer file sharing and included information about where to get help to stop (including !). Since then, they have seen a 67% reduction in this kind of file sharing of sexual images of children.

We are looking forward to continuing to work collaboratively and across borders to address the growing problem of online child sexual abuse in the future.

Back to top