Almost half of 18-20 year olds in the Middle East have been victims of online abuse and exploitation, according to a major survey, many of which took advantage of after sending compromising images to the web.
Child sexual abuse and self-generated indecent images were part of a growing trend in online exploitation seen in a report by the WeProtect Global Alliance, an organization comprising more than 200 governments, private sector companies and society groups. civil.
A survey conducted by Economist Impact asked more than 5,000 people between the ages of 18 and 20 in 54 countries about their online experiences as children.
It found that 44% of those polled in the Middle East and North Africa region had experienced online sexual abuse as a child.
This figure was 71 percent in North America and 65 percent in Western Europe.
A total of 34 percent said they were asked to do something sexually explicit online that they weren’t comfortable with as children, while 54 percent had experienced at least one case of online sexual violence.
âThis type of abuse can take many forms, from grooming to sharing abuse videos or live streaming,â said Iain Drennan, executive director of WeProtect Global Alliance.
âThe report provides a detailed threat assessment over an unprecedented 18 months during the pandemic.
âThe internet and social media are often a double-edged sword for children, providing important places to learn, but they are also used to facilitate their sexual abuse.
“It is a crime that affects children in real life with far-reaching and lasting consequences.”
Online predators lurk in the dark web
A case study in the report revealed the actual story of a 10-year-old girl, Olivia, who was treated online.
She was first approached through a gaming app before being encouraged to engage in a more private online chat room.
The main offender shared Olivia’s details with other abusers who began contacting her directly, posting links to explicit videos to normalize their sexual behavior.
Men from several different countries communicated through the dark web, sending it hundreds of emails.
The abuse was eventually discovered by Olivia’s father when her cell phone was left unlocked.
“This story is not isolated,” said Drennan.
âOur research over the past nine months has shown a sustained threat of online sexual abuse and it is increasing at an unprecedented rate.
âOver the past two years, online sexual abuse reporting rates have been the highest on record, with an increase in image sharing, grooming and live streaming for a fee.
âCovid-19 and the increase in self-generated material that is exploited for sexual purposes or shared without their consent are major factors contributing to this increase. “
Abuse rates may be even higher than current data suggests, as numbers are not broadly representative and biased in favor of counties with higher detection and reporting, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. -United.
Experts have said that this type of abuse is generally an underreported crime.
In May 2021, Europol took down a dark web child sexual abuse site with over 400,000 registered users.
An avalanche of new reports has revealed a changing online landscape during the pandemic, with the Internet Watch Foundation reporting a 77% increase in ‘self-generated’ sexual material from 2019-2020.
In the United States, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) said it now processes more than 60,000 reports of child sexual abuse online every day.
âAfter seeing my first image of child exploitation, it took a lot of education and learning to understand the full extent of this crime,â said Lt. Col. Dana Humaid, executive director of United Arab Emirates Home Office International Affairs Office.
“Unfortunately, ignorance still exists and the lack of understanding that even though these crimes do not involve any physical contact between victim and offender, the damage is still severe.”
The WeProtect Global Alliance was hosted in Abu Dhabi in 2015 to launch a new national response to online child exploitation.
Since then, child protection officers have lobbied at ministerial, practical and technical levels among MENA and Asian countries to find a comprehensive solution to online child exploitation.
Tech companies must do more to stem the tide of abuse
The main recommendations of the report are tighter regulation, technology companies offering more transparency in online security tools, and a greater investment in law enforcement.
âThis region can do more to tackle this complex global problem,â said Lt. Col. Humaid.
âThere is huge potential for law enforcement to invest in artificial intelligence, new language processors and image recognition to report abusive behavior.
âThis powerful technology can be used to increase prosecution rates by automatically detecting age and nudity, and using voice recognition to identify victims and perpetrators.
âThese AI tools need to be adopted by more countries.
“Traditional methods are not enough – they are too slow and allow a backlog of law enforcement agencies that take too long to identify victims.”
While tech companies are well-equipped to remove images of sexual abuse quickly, with 87% of them using ‘hash match’ algorithms to detect posts, the assessment found they were in the market. lags in action against online grooming in game chat rooms.
Only 37% of tech companies said they had used tools to detect the practice, which is often a portal to broader child abuse.
Former British Police Sergeant Henry Platten has set up a free and safe social media platform for children to use in the UAE.
GoBubble School has over 130 registered schools in UAE and provides a safe and transparent social media platform for children where content is verified.
“When I was in the UK police force as a trainee detective and sergeant, social media was increasingly involved in domestic violence and child exploitation,” Mr Platten said.
âThere are still a large number of young children under the age of 13 who use these platforms before they are old enough to do so.
“The problem with illegal and harmful activity, which is a very real and important problem, is that it is the precursor to grooming.”
What is “capping”?
The âcapâ was a particular concern raised by the report.
It is about preparing and forcing children to commit sexual acts in front of a camera. It has been described by police as a “problematic trend” fueling the proliferation of child sexual abuse.
Self-generated sexual material has become more common during the pandemic, posing particular challenges for police and policymakers.
Cases include age-appropriate sexual exploration between consenting adolescents as well as coercion and non-consensual sharing of images.
Evidence of monetization is also on the rise, with increased use of subscribers’ online platforms.
Mr Platten said the role of parents was crucial and he encouraged them to invest heavily in the technology used by children.
âEntry-level games like Roblox and Minecraft have security features, and parents need to know how they work,â he said.
âTechnology can solve this problem and it does.
âIn the past, companies have been reluctant to resolve these issues, leaving users to manage their own security, which has created a void now filled by security technologies and content moderation.
âThe UAE is making great strides in this area and it is ahead of many other countries with a high level of thinking.
âTechnology adoption is happening, but more can be done. “
Update: October 19, 2021, 3:21 a.m.