A Survivor Leader’s Perspective on Dirty Dozen List – calling out actions needed by major tech companies to protect children from online sexual abuse

A Survivor Leader’s Perspective on Dirty Dozen List – calling out actions needed by major tech companies to protect children from online sexual abuse

By Rhiannon-Faye McDonald, member of the Brave Movement’s SAGE (Survivor Advocates Globally Empowered – advisory board) and the Head of Advocacy at the Marie Collins Foundation.

I am a survivor of technology-assisted child sexual abuse. When I was 13 years old, I was groomed online by a much older man who was pretending to be someone else. He gave me lots of compliments so I would send photos of myself to him, and ultimately was able to manipulate me into sending intimate photos which were then used to blackmail me. He came to my house the following morning and continued the sexual abuse in person. The photos were used to silence me.

For a long time following my abuse, I felt very alone. I knew that countless other victims and survivors were out there, but I didn’t know any of them. I was never put in contact with others with similar experiences to me,  so I never experienced the kind of peer support that I now know is invaluable in the recovery journey. I joined the Brave Movement because it is such a positive step forward in connecting those with lived experience and showing that we are not alone and not powerless.

By bringing together so many lived experience advocates, our collective voices can bring about true change and have a real impact on the fight against child sexual abuse.

No child should ever have to experience what I went through. No victim or survivor should have to experience the complete lack of support that I did. We have a responsibility to do better, to ensure that every child is safe, and every victim and survivor receives the appropriate support along their recovery journey.

We have had thirty years to address this, and yet the self-regulation of tech companies has failed miserably in protecting children. The number of children harmed by technology-assisted child sexual abuse is ever-increasing. We see victims and survivors being continually re-traumatised by the ongoing circulation of the images and videos of their sexual abuse. We are now witnessing tech companies intentionally making decisions which make their services less safe for children, and more private and secure for child sex abusers.

We cannot stand for this any longer.

Tech companies have a duty to ensure their platforms are safe and are not used as a tool for child sex abusers to groom and abuse children. Many platforms are still failing to protect children adequately. They need to take urgent action to address this and end child sexual abuse in their services.

Launching today, the Dirty Dozen List is crucial in calling out the mainstream tech companies who are facilitating, enabling, and even profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation. The List, created annually by the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, looks at 12 leading tech platforms and the problematic policies and practices on each with a corresponding call to action for urgent change. By providing us with the evidence, it is easy to see which tech platforms are not doing enough and the urgent action that is needed, along with providing easy ways to engage with the issue.

By calling out tech companies in this way, it makes clear that we will no longer accept children being put at risk. And it has been working, along with other initiatives and campaigns in this space. since the list was created in 2013, there have been many victories where tech companies have addressed their failings as a result of being named and shamed. For example, both Instagram and TikTok no longer allow adult strangers to send unsolicited direct messages to children, and Snapchat removed the Snapcash feature which enabled the monetization of child sexual abuse. But there is still more to do.

Technology-assisted child sexual abuse has no borders. It is a global issue, requiring a coordinated and cohesive global response. We need governments and policymakers to truly understand this issue and the significant harm caused, and fight passionately to eradicate it. This includes strong legislation holding tech companies to account and ensuring that the safety of children is prioritised over profit. It includes resources for law enforcement, social services, health, education and parents to strengthen the safeguarding circle around children and ensure that the response to those harmed online does no further harm. It also includes engaging with those of us who have lived experience of this horrendous issue – our voices should inspire change, inform decisions, and be the golden thread running through the global response.

Join the Brave Movement today in calling for tech companies to take urgent action, and support the launch of the #DirtyDozenList with us!

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