WePROTECT Global Alliance
Halting online child sexual exploitation and abuse
The harm from online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) is growing as internet use spreads across the globe and crime becomes more sophisticated. We’re supporting the WePROTECT Global Alliance, as the organisation co-ordinates a global fightback and launches as an independent international institution.
- Collaborated with international governments, law enforcement agencies, the technology industry and civil society organisations to produce a global, publicly available analysis of the scale and nature of the threat facing children online
- Worked with board members to design a two-year plan to transition the WePROTECT Global Alliance out of the UK Government to a self-sufficient independent organisation
A growing problem
The WePROTECT Global Alliance acts as a focus for worldwide efforts to end online child sexual abuse and exploitation. The problem ranges from offenders sharing indecent images and videos of children, to ‘sextortion’: interacting with children to groom, manipulate or blackmail them into performing sexually over webcam for the purpose of obtaining more explicit imagery, and sharing this online with other offenders. WePROTECT’s members include major technology companies, civil society organisations and law enforcement agencies like Interpol, the US Department of Justice and the UK’s National Crime Agency.
The organisation is combatting a growing problem. Between 2018 and 2019, tech companies reported a 100 per cent increase in the number of photos of children being sexually abused.
It’s also a problem that’s becoming harder to fight. In 2019, US tech companies made 18.9 million referrals of child sexual abuse material to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Two-thirds of the harmful material originated in messaging platforms. The issue is that when the service providers introduce end-to-end encryption, authorities won’t be able to monitor this material. So, the problem will go underground. While encryption protects privacy, it also gives offenders a shield to operate behind.
Quantifying the global challenge
We’re working with WePROTECT in two main ways. First, we’ve broadened the scope of its annual survey, the Global Threat Assessment (GTA) which has helped international leaders understand the threat and frame the national and global response. We built on our earlier work in coordinating the first GTA to bring new insights into the nature of online child sexual abuse in different geographies and explore how technological innovation will impact the threat. PA’s unique blend of expertise, technology insights and access to a global network meant we were able to access credible and authoritative points of contact in international governments, law enforcement agencies, academia and independent researchers. These brought fresh cultural perspectives to our analysis and provided unique access to international research projects, case studies and national threat assessments.
By focusing on the scale and pace of global internet penetration, we were able to identify the widening gap between those nations who have had the time to evolve sophisticated support services in step with their technical evolution and those who are leaping to technology parity faster than their legal mechanisms, education and child protection preparations can keep pace.
Creating a plan for success
We’ve also helped the WePROTECT Global Alliance evolve from its roots in the UK Home Office to become independent and self-funding. We’ve developed a plan that sets out WePROTECT’s capabilities and governance, and how it raises money. It’s helped them focus their ambitions on specific areas, like maintaining the right balance of members across government, business, law enforcement and CSOs. This will let them preserve the effective multi-stakeholder approach that’s one of the reasons why the organisation is so well-positioned to coordinate global efforts to tackle online CSEA.
Staff have been able to run with the plan themselves. The organisation is now an alliance and 97 countries are members, along with 27 global technology companies, 31 leading CSOs and eight regional organisations, with philanthropic funding to guarantee its immediate future.
WePROTECT has also produced a Global Strategic Response, a checklist of capabilities that governments around the world can use to sharpen and co-ordinate their efforts to curb online CSEA. They range from information sharing by national criminal justice systems and victim support services to technological knowledge of detecting and blocking illegal material, live streaming and online grooming. The framework aims to help individual nations come together to stop offenders and help victims, while protecting children and stopping online platforms being used for abuse and exploitation.