Washington—The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) held a forum on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, to highlight the urgent need for lawmakers and tech companies to take action to stop the pervasive online sexual abuse of children.
NCOSE hosted a six-member panel consisting of experts that are involved in advocacy, outreach, mental health, cybersecurity, policy, and research in the field of child sexual exploitation. The speakers made it clear that advances in technology have brought with them an exponential growth of child sex abuse, but law and tech accountability has not kept pace to ensure adequate safety for the youth.
Chris McKenna, founder of Protect Young Eyes, focuses on app safety and said that 1998 was the last time he saw Congress pass a law that protects kids from online abuse, called the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA). It had the goal of preventing young people from accessing obscene material on commercial websites, but has not been updated to meet digital safety needs.
McKenna said, “It’s our societal duty to protect kids online, and that starts with properly warning parents about the risks associated with certain apps and giving parents more parental controls options.”
Dawn Hawkins, Executive director at NCOSE said, “Parents are empowered with rating information to keep kids out of R rated films but when it comes to apps, parents are left in the dark about the kind of content their children are accessing.”
As a result of this lack of app rating and monitoring, social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Facebook have become hot spots for child and youth sexual exploitation.
McKenna, along with NCOSE, has called for the following actions to prevent online abuse:
- The creation of an independent app ratings board that would create an app rating system that is clearly understood, trustworthy, enforceable, and protects the innocence of minors.
- The release of intuitive parental controls for iOS, Android, and Chrome operating systems; these controls should be age-appropriate and easy to use.
- Adherence to a social media, “duty of care” attitude toward children. “Duty of care” is a UK regulation for tech companies which includes tougher app age verifications, safe mode options for parents, and annual compliance reviews.
According to its website, NCOSE is an organization in Washington that was founded in 1962. Since then it has evolved to become an advocate for a world free from all forms of sexual exploitation. It conducts policy activism through projects like the Dirty Dozen List, which targets 12 mainstream corporations or organizations that facilitate sexual exploitation.
Since 2013, NCOSE has published an annual Dirty Dozen List to name and shame mainstream players in America that perpetuate sexual exploitation—whether that be through pornography, prostitution, sexual objectification, sexual violence, or sex trafficking.
Rob Spectre, a panelist who is the founder of an artificial intelligence platform that protects kids from online predators, says that online exploitation has reached “crisis” proportions. Speaking about the lucrative online tech industry he said, “It is an industry that generates billions but is failing our kids.” He speaks to audiences about the need for stronger, more current laws to hold the tech companies accountable and ensure the online safety of children.
NCOSE has also developed The Freedom from Sexploitation Agenda which outlines common-sense policy recommendations for Congress and the executive branch that have the potential to “combat sexual exploitation, protect human rights, and preserve human dignity.”