On Safer Internet Day, La Strada specialists brought to public attention the increase in the amount of child sexual abuse material hosted in Moldova. It was the first time our country appeared in the top 10 countries in the world where child sexual abuse material was hosted, registering a total of 6,085 URLs (2%), according to data from the Internet Watch Foundation.
It happened in the year when 85 million photos and videos representing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) were reported worldwide.
This means that specialists analyze one online child abuse material every two minutes.
Each uploaded material materializes into hundreds of photos or videos of abused children, which is evidence and tragedy that is hard to imagine and impossible to comfort. The number of child victims of online sexual abuse increases, while their age decreases. According to data from siguronline.md, every fourth child victim of online sexual abuse is under the age of 13.
The U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported in 2021 an increase of almost 40% of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) uploaded online from Moldova.
Iurie ROȘCA, head of the Cybercrime Investigations Division: “According to statistics, 403 criminal cases of sexual abuse of children were registered in 2022, of which 52 cases (13%) with the use of information technologies, thus being victimized 23 minors. Every year we receive thousands of notifications from international partners such as the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) about alleged cases of online child sexual abuse. Likewise, hotline services in the European Union regularly report to us illegal child sexual abuse materials hosted by hosting companies in Moldova, asking to remove them or block access to them. In this context, it is necessary to develop a national mechanism for reporting child sexual abuse materials, which would also ensure national levers of identification, analysis, removal or blocking of these files with illegal content.”
The imperfection of the legislation regulating the activity of hosting companies and the lack of a mechanism for reporting CSAM make Moldova particularly attractive for the circulation of such materials.
In the meantime, what we can and must do, as adults, is respond by reporting, blocking and removing such images from cyberspace.
In Moldova, children who suffer or have experienced sexual abuse online are helped to overcome it, at any stage, by turning, free of charge and anonymously, to the platform www.siguronline.md managed by the International Center La Strada Moldova. The platform provides information, guidance, emotional support and referral, if necessary, to free psychological and legal assistance for children, parents, teachers and relevant professionals.
In 2022, 1,249 children and adults turned to siguronline.md for consultation. The most vulnerable to online risks are children aged 13 to 15.
More and more children choose to establish and maintain friendship and/or love relationships online, and children also talk about situations in which their photos, edited and modified, are shared online in order to compromise their reputation, as well as about theft of accounts and identity.
17% of Moldovan children who wrote to us about experiences of online sexual abuse benefited from psychological and legal assistance services provided by the Child Support Team.
Elena Botezatu, executive director of the International Center La Strada: “Every child sexual abuse material, photo or video, has a history and represents a tragic, shameful, traumatic experience. What a child who has experienced online abuse wants most is for their photo or video in sexual poses to disappear. Every viewing, every share of such material repeatedly victimizes the child and makes him feel ashamed, guilty and condemned for what happened.
Each time, Siguronline counselors, as well as lawyers and psychologists of La Strada are asked about what we can do to erase the material from the internet. In some cases, children want nothing else but to stop the sharing of photos or videos that remind of abuse.
Last year’s statistics in the field reconfirm the fact that the online sexual exploitation of children must be looked at from different perspectives, both from that of the child and the actions performed on him, as well as from the perspective of sexual abuse material and actions to stop their distribution. We cannot talk about an effective response to cases of online sexual abuse if we take a limiting approach and do not take all the necessary actions to remove illegal content from the internet.”
In this context, it is necessary to launch in Moldova the first hotline service for reporting and removing materials representing sexual abuse of children. Communication between central authorities and public institutions in the field of information security and cyber security, as well as civil society is at its final stage. The concept of the national mechanism for reporting child sexual abuse material was approved by the General Police Inspectorate in December 2022, and the service is to be launched in the coming months with the support of the International Center La Strada.
Since 2014, Moldova has committed to create and implement a legal framework for preventing and combating sexual abuse and exploitation of children, as a member of WeProtect Global Alliance. One of the actions recommended by this international body was to develop and ensure the functionality of a special hotline service for reporting allegedly illegal material, including material representing child sexual abuse.
Safer Internet Day marks the start of several intense weeks with online safety events, activities, competitions and projects. This year, La Strada implements the Safer Internet Day campaign in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Research, General Police Inspectorate, Moldcell, with the financial support of the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau.
As a national SID Committee, La Strada Moldova implements the campaign of the international SID initiative in Moldova under the slogan “Together for a better internet”. For 20 years, the aim of this campaign has been the same: to mobilize citizens, civil society, companies, authorities and the general public to ensure a better and safer internet for young users. Today, this initiative is celebrated in about 200 countries around the world. On social media, messages from campaign supporters can be found under the hashtags: #SaferInternetDay, #SID2023, #SigurOnline.