Here at Thorn, one part of our work is equipping law enforcement with the technology they need to help identify children exploited through sex trafficking or child sexual abuse imagery faster. This work would not be possible without the policies that protect child victims and hold perpetrators accountable. As our Strategy and Operations Director, Brooke Istook, shared earlier this year, you can start addressing these issues right where you live—by learning about the laws in your country, state, or city.
In fact, we need you to learn about them. By taking time out of your day to talk to your government about these issues, you can be an advocate in the fight against child sexual exploitation and help elevate the voices of our children.
The Legal Framework to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation
Human trafficking is illegal globally and defined by the Palermo Protocol (its very long official name is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime). In the US, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is the foundation of our policies to address trafficking. It defines human trafficking as a federal crime, outlines how the perpetrators can be prosecuted, and establishes what protections are granted to victims. It also created the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, which is a great resource to learn how trafficking occurs around the world. The current authorization (or version) of the TVPA expires this September, and bills were recently introduced in both the House and the Senate for reauthorization. Outside of these national laws, each state has their own set of trafficking laws (shoutout to Washington State for being the first to criminalize trafficking in 2003).
Child Sexual Abuse Material
Child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is more often known as child pornography, but those working in the field refer to it as CSAM to reflect the abuse that these images and videos depict. If you’re talking to someone who works in this field they’ll tell you that there is no such thing as child pornography, only child sexual abuse. In the United States, child pornography is criminalized in the US Code, which includes all general and permanent laws (it doesn’t include temporary or special laws like appropriation funding bills). CSAM is digital, shared almost anywhere you can transfer a file. That means CSAM is frequently shared across national borders, so international law is really important. According to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), 35 countries still don’t have anti-child pornography laws, and of the ones that do, 26 do not cover with computer-based offenses.
What Can You Do to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation?
New laws that address human trafficking and child sexual abuse imagery are regularly introduced, whether in Congress or your state legislature. By being an informed advocate, you can show your representatives that you care about what they’re doing to protect children in your community.
- Know your laws: Knowledge of local laws gives you the power to be an even more effective Digital Defender. The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) advocates for national policy changes and the National Conference of State Legislatures provides an overview of state laws. (Key tip: check to see if a survivor organization – like FAIR Girls or Courtney’s House – is supporting a bill.) The Family Online Safety Institute has also compiled a global resource of legislation regarding child sexual exploitation online.
- Know your lawmakers: Know who represents you not only nationally in the Senate, and House of Representatives, but also locally within your state legislature and your county and city government.
- Turn this knowledge into action: Now that you know your laws and your lawmakers — contact them! You can call, write letters, and attend in-person events (such as town halls with your members of Congress or your local city council meeting). You can share your support or opposition to a bill that they’re working on, thank them for their work to protect children, or even just to let them know that fighting child sexual exploitation is important to you. If you’re new to contacting your representatives, a former Congressional staffer compiled this helpful “Call the Halls” guide.
- Start today by voicing your support for the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act!