UNODC call to action

Almost five and a half years ago, 11 survivors of child sexual abuse that has been documented through photographs and videos and, in most cases, distributed to pedophiles online and in real time, were brought together to meet in person.

This had never been done before. When we first met, we all had our own questions about what meeting other survivors would mean for our own journeys. Nerves about how we would fit into this group, when we were unsure of ourselves, and how our stories would fit into a global society that has come to rely on the internet more and more each day.

Over the same five and a half years that we have been advocating, survivors, including some of us, continue to live with billions of eyes on them. As the first generation to experience child sexual abuse that is watched and traded over and over again, we have entered new stages of our lives that bring new triggers and new challenges, which often seems to bring us back to square one in our healing journeys.

Entering new decades and still feeling like a child cowering in the corner, wondering when it will stop being this hard, because on the internet, we are forever frozen in time as those children.

That is what the tech industry’s lack of action does. It perpetuates our abuse eternally, and we cannot heal, and without healing, we cannot move on, and every day that passes is another obscene number of trades and shares. When tech doesn’t act and no one holds them accountable for their lack of action, it feeds into the doubt we already have in ourselves.

We question ourselves, wondering if tech or the people in positions of authority aren’t doing anything about it, then maybe it isn’t that bad. Those are the thoughts of children who were abused and exploited by people who have had authority over them. And as adults, we live with those thoughts because they remain partly true. The people who have the power and authority to stop this have not done so.

It is far worse in some ways than we could ever imagine as children, because as adults, our eyes are open to it. We are being failed time and time again and it makes me so enraged, not only for me, but for my P11 sisters, and every other child that is suffering now and will suffer in the future, if action continues to be something we simply talk about.

We are in a battle to be seen as more than files that are uploaded and downloaded again and again, as more than images on a device or computer screen, as more than a paycheck to be taken to the bank. We want them to believe our stories, to see our pain, and act for no other reason. That it is the right thing to do.

There are so many technologies that have been developed that could assist tech companies in the detection of child sexual abuse material, faster removal, as well as upload prevention. We know that one of those technologies, the Canadian Centre’s Project Arachnid, is completely free of cost to any tech platform globally who wishes to use it.

In 2020, Facebook submitted approximately 21.5 million reports to NCMEC, yet over half of those reports were regarding the same six videos. This indicates that Facebook knew the CSAM was on their platform, but did not proactively block or remove them, which could have potentially been done using some publicly available software free of charge. Instead, they left the videos of the children being sexually abused on their platforms to be shared and reshared between other users over and over again.

All of us working in this space together could not have given more reason or resources than we already have to the tech industry. All of this at their fingertips should make the decision to join the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation the easiest moral decision they could ever make, and yet they still err on the side of the predators.

Still, there is no motivation from the tech industry to help end the proliferation of CSAM, and there is no accountability demanded by those who have the power to do so for tech to demonstrate any progress is being made toward what is being told is a mutual goal between survivors and governments.

Over the years, we have gone in and out of meeting after meeting, hearing over and over that tech needs to step up, and to be honest, we’re tired. We are tired of excuses, and we are tired of having to explain why this global epidemic of child sexual abuse on the internet remains a problem. We want to be very clear: The tech industry knows that child sexual abuse material is on their platforms. They know that these are known documented crime scenes of horrific acts of abuse against our most vulnerable. They know it would cost them nothing to implement available technologies, and they also know it might cost them a little to lose the predators who frequent those platforms.

Enough is enough. We want to see action, accountability, and transparency from anyone who has any amount of power to stop tech companies from profiting off of children. We might be tired, but until this happens, we are just getting started. And I’ll quote our advocacy statement: “We will not be stopped; we will not be silenced.” Thank you.