As Congress deliberates on government spending for the new fiscal year, calls are growing for lawmakers to address the urgent crisis of online sexual exploitation of children. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received a staggering 32 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation in 2022, with nearly 90 percent of cases originating outside the United States. This global crime involves demand-side offenders in one country and victims in another.
A recent study conducted by the International Justice Mission and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab revealed that approximately half a million Filipino children, or 1 in 100, were sexually abused by adults in 2022 to produce new child sexual exploitation material. The study also found that around a quarter of a million adult Filipinos, roughly 3 in every 1,000, were involved in the financially motivated production of these materials.
Multiple reports from reputable sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and The Guardian have highlighted the failure of the existing legal framework in the United States to effectively protect vulnerable children online. In his State of the Union address, President Biden emphasized the need for bipartisan legislation to regulate the technology sector, including measures to safeguard children online.
The bipartisan EARN IT Act has been proposed as a solution to strengthen reporting requirements for child sexual abuse material. It aims to establish clear specifications for online providers to report suspected abuse to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The bill also seeks to create a national commission of experts to develop best practices for prevention, with representatives from survivor groups, government officials, technical experts, and civil rights leaders.
Critics of the EARN IT Act have raised concerns about potential privacy issues. However, proponents argue that prioritizing the safety and well-being of survivors is paramount. The bill aims to protect current and future victims by detecting, reporting, and removing abusive material from online platforms, including livestreamed exploitation.
The scale of the problem remains unknown due to uneven detection and reporting across the technology industry. However, the research conducted indicates that hundreds of thousands of Filipino children have fallen victim to sexual abuse for the production of child sexual exploitation material. Urgent action is needed to strike a balance between user privacy and the protection of children on publicly used internet platforms.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Richard Durbin has expressed support for bills like the EARN IT Act, stating that they strike a balance between protecting free speech and safeguarding children. Concerned citizens are urged to call on lawmakers to ensure the U.S. government upholds legal requirements addressing online sexual exploitation material. Updating existing laws to improve the quality of reports sent to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline and incentivizing companies to address this issue are crucial steps forward.
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Vanessa Bautista, a survivor of child sexual abuse in the Philippines and a founding member of the Global Survivor Network, emphasized the need for action. She highlighted the ongoing harm caused by the continued production, possession, and distribution of sexual abuse material online.
The crisis of online sexual exploitation of children demands immediate attention and effective solutions. Congress must work together across party lines to address this pressing issue and protect vulnerable children from further harm.