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Strong support from citizens across the EU to prevent and combat child sexual abuse online

“Everything starts by writing to each other. Building trust. You feel a bit guilty because you know you cannot talk to strangers, let alone meet them. But it is too late. You are already caught in the vicious cycle.”

Jennifer was 14 years old when she met a man online. He sexually abused, manipulated, and blackmailed her.

“I felt disgusted every time he talked to me. I just wanted to go home but I didn’t know what he was capable of.” 

For two months, she lived in fear.

The horror of child sexual abuse online is all too real for Jennifer and thousands of other children. The circulation of online child sexual abuse materials and cases of “grooming” (manipulation and coercion of children into sexual abuse) have risen at an alarming rate. According to a recent study by WeProtect Global Alliance, almost 7 in 10 (68%) respondents had experienced online sexual harms before the age of 18.

On 20 July, the European Commission released the findings of its Eurobarometer survey on the protection of children against online sexual abuse. They show that a vast majority of Europeans:

  • consider that children are increasingly at risk online (92%) and regard the problem of child sexual abuse online as very or fairly widespread in their countries (73%).
  • see the ability to detect child abuse equally as important or more important than the right to online privacy (96%)
  • support that service providers use tools to automatically detect images and videos already known (89%), new images and videos (85%) and grooming (84%), even if those tools may interfere with the privacy of users
  • support that service providers detect CSAM and grooming in online messages (87%), also if the services use end-to-end encryption (83%) in case of a significant risk of child sexual abuse on a specific platform
  • approve the Commission legislative proposal to prevent and combat child sexual abuse (78%).

The fight against child sexual abuse is a priority for the EU. In May 2022, the European Commission set out a legislative proposal to prevent and combat child sexual abuse. The proposal creates obligations for online service providers to prevent child sexual abuse from happening by requiring them to put in place child safety by design measures. Only if preventive measures are not sufficient, online service providers may be subject to obligations to detect child sexual abuse images and videos, as well as grooming. The proposal also includes obligations to report child sexual abuse online to authorities, remove the material, and block access to it when removal is not possible. The proposed new regulation also creates a new dedicated EU agency, the EU Centre to prevent and combat child sexual abuse, to facilitate cooperation and boost efforts by private and public authorities against these crimes.

Technology to detect child sexual abuse material and grooming online already exists and service providers have been detecting on a voluntary basis for years. The new proposal will replace the current voluntary framework for a mandatory one, strictly regulated, with the necessary safeguards and conditions to make sure that digital spaces have the necessary protections to keep children like Jennifer safe from harm online, while fully guaranteeing privacy and the protection of personal data.  According to the Flash Eurobarometer, the majority of Europeans want to see progress made in stopping the abuse and exploitation of children online, with 78% of respondents supporting the legislative proposal.

Link:, dated July 20, 2023 10:55 am

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