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A UN Panel on the Misuse of Technology in the Exploitation of Girls

By March 18, 2014 June 25th, 2014 No Comments

About 40% of the world’s population is online with approximately 2.7 billion Internet users. Over 100 countries have at least one million Internet users each. New technologies offer a fantastic opportunity for young people to explore, learn, play and communicate in ways that were not available to previous generations.

However, these technologies also offer new ways for people to take advantage of vulnerable children and to facilitate their exploitation. On Monday, March 17th, Thorn had the opportunity to join a panel discussion on the impact of these changes in technology on the exploitation of girls, and what we need to do together to help girls navigate this space safely. The panel was one of the culminating events for the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women meetings in New York over the past week. We were happy to join Emily Vacher, Facebook’s Head of Global Safety; Sean McDonald, Executive Director of The Social Impact Lab; Ana Morse, President of ECPAT USA; and Stephen Balkam, Chief Executive Director, Family Online Safety Institute.

The discussion spanned topics from the role of technology in accelerating exploitation, to how technology can be used to stop perpetrators and rescue victims to the non-technology topic of how education for both children and parents and open dialogue among families is critical to stopping exploitation.

Ms. Morse opened the panel by setting the stage with facts about the state of technology and exploitation. She shared with the audience the signifcant increase in child abuse imagery online, the role of online environments in sex trafficking and emerging trends such as live streaming web abuse and sextortion. She then turned the dialogue over the panelists that shared new ways of addressing these threats.

Mr. Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute emphasized the role of open dialogue and conversation among parents and children. He shared interesting findings from their recent research regarding teen identify theft. They found that while 76% of teens expressed concern about privacy of their online information, 36% had willingly shared one or more of their usernames and passwords with someone other than their parents. FOSI has also developed a tool to help facilitate conversations between children and parents.  You can check out their family online safety contract at: http://www.fosi.org/images/stories/resources/family-online-safety-contract.pdf

Emily Vacher from Facebook provided an overview of Facebook’s approach to safety including its reporting tool for illegal content and their interaction with law enforcement around the world and with organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  To find out more about how to report child exploitation on Facebook visit: https://www.facebook.com/help/www/181495968648557?rdrhc.

Sean McDonald from Social Impact Lab emphasized the importance of developing cross-platform solutions that can reach those who have access to relatively low-tech platforms vs. high tech. With more than 3.5 billion people globally having access to text messaging, many of their solutions focus on leveraging this platform for increased knowledge sharing, outreach and connectivity. One of their programs was designed to use text messaging to reach victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Edmonton Canada.  You can read the resuls here: http://www.frontlinesms.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/frontlinesms_casestudy_Sexual-Exploitation-Outreach-with-Text-Messaging.pdf

I focused on Thorn’s role in channeling the best and brightest minds in technology to develop new tools to combat predatory behavior and to stop child trafficking now. I outlined the opportunities that are created when you marry insight from the front lines – law enforcement and survivors – with data from online transactions and innovators who address problems in new ways. We shared the impact of our work with Polaris Project on integrating text messaging into the National Human Trafficking Hotline and discussed the opportunity to use language-based clues for finding child sex trafficking victims in online environments.

The issue of sexual exploitation of children on the internet is global. The child pornography facts and child trafficking statistics are appalling.  If you support our work, please take action and connect with us, or consider donating to end child exploitation.