One unintended consequence of the explosion of digital technology is the proliferation of online child exploitation material -- and increased opportunities for child sex offenders to connect with other offenders.
This is the central finding of Anti-Slavery Australia's Behind the Screen: Online Child Exploitation in Australia report. That report is the first comprehensive summary of Australia's response to online child exploitation and identifies the critical need for decisive and urgent action.
Part of responding to the issue is understanding the extent of the problem -- and the facts are confronting. There are currently more than 150 million images and videos depicting child exploitation available online.
Digital technologies are constantly evolving, and predators are usually ahead of the game.
As of January 1 this year, INTERPOL's International Child Sexual Exploitation image database had identified more than 10,000 victims of child exploitation. This means that, on average, seven child victims are identified every day. These are real children -- with families and friends, and who could well be living in your street -- who have fallen prey to people who have no regard for their rights.
In 2015, the Australian Federal Police received 11,000 online child exploitation reports. The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children reports that as of June last year, there were 194 identified Australia-based child victims and 102 identified Australian offenders.
Responding to this issue will require a joint effort by government, law enforcement, industry -- particularly internet service providers -- and civil society.
Anti-Slavery Australia recommends that we establish a peak national body with representatives from government departments, law enforcement agencies and key stakeholders to streamline our response to the issue of online child exploitation in Australia. This could build on the important work of the eSafety Commissioner and others who are already turning their minds to battling the exploitation of children online.
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While today's children navigate the online world with ease -- to communicate with each other, to learn, to access information and for recreation -- they generally do this without adult supervision or guidance. Many children can sense unsafe people and places online, as they do in the real world.
However, some children are much more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. These are the children who are living out of home, away from their families, are homeless or subject to neglect and other forms of abuse. These are the teenagers who are struggling to cope with the world. It is these children who seek the love, support and connections that have been missing in their lives and who are especially vulnerable to exploitation.
Digital technologies are constantly evolving, and predators are usually ahead of the game. We need to make sure that our legal and community response to the crimes that this technology enables evolve as quickly -- so that all our kids are okay.
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