Record £25 million offer of investment to arrest offenders and safeguard young people

‘Game changing’ boost for police in global fight against sexual exploitation and abuse of children

INTERPOL, the international crime fighting body, is set to receive its biggest ever private funding injection to better combat the global sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

Plans for a £25 million funding deal were announced following a meeting of the board of the Human Dignity Foundation (HDF) that has supported INTERPOL’s efforts with over £7.5 million in the past decade.

(left to right) Paul Stanfield, Dr John Climax and Stephen Kavanagh. Credit: Stewart Attwood

In partnership with the Edinburgh-based Childlight Global Child Safety Institute, the deal would equip frontline police globally with skills, data and insights to more quickly identify and rescue children at risk and bring more perpetrators to justice.

It comes after Childlight, a data institute, produced global research last month suggesting the lives of more than 300 million young people each year are blighted by online sexual exploitation and abuse, with reports of offences logged once every second.

It is intended that the new investment over seven years will be matched by INTERPOL and other partners as threats to children escalate year on year. It is hoped the deal will encourage others to join together with funding, data and expertise to fight the growing problem.

The funding will support a recent INTERPOL resolution to work more effectively against child abuse and provide police with a stronger evidence base and operational response to tackle this global scourge through training, mentoring and access to data.

It follows many months of discussions and engagement with INTERPOL led by executive director Stephen Kavanagh, who leads the body’s global response to serious crime.

Dr John Climax, the HDF chair, said Kavanagh’s leadership and commitment over many years to fight the growing problem had persuaded him that INTERPOL was ideally placed to equip frontline police, sometimes in disadvantaged countries with vital resources.

Kavanagh is currently a board member of Childlight and WeProtect Global Alliance, a global movement of governments, companies and charities to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse online.

A lack of training and resources means police investigators in less than half of the 196 INTERPOL member countries currently act on data contained in its International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) image and video database.

The new funding is intended to help all 196 countries accelerate and enhance their response to those suffering CSEA, with minimum global standards so all countries can access, share and act on the data to rapidly identify offenders and safeguard children.

To date, the database, which holds more than 4.9 million images and videos and connects 68 countries, has helped identify more than 37,900 victims worldwide – at a rate of 15 identifications every day.

Using image and video comparison software, the database enables investigators to instantly make connections between victims, abusers and places. It also avoids duplication of effort by letting investigators know whether images have already been identified in another country.

Dr Climax said: “The sexual exploitation and abuse of children is a serious global health emergency prevalent in every country, global in nature, and growing exponentially. I share Stephen’s view, therefore, that police in every country, must have the means to fight it.

“Now is the time for the world to work together and provide an immediate and comprehensive public health and law enforcement response because children can’t wait.”

Paul Stanfield the CEO of Childlight, based at the University of Edinburgh, which produces data to inform policy makers of the scale and nature of the problem and provides authorities with advisory support to tackle it.

He said: “Our data has identified that many frontline police are too hamstrung by a lack of resources to receive data and to act on it effectively in order to arrest abusers and protect children. This funding promises to be game changing, supercharging efforts globally to help end this nightmare for young people.”

Childlight estimates that nearly 13% of the world’s children have been victims of non-consensual taking, sharing and exposure to sexual images and videos. In addition, just over 12% of children globally are estimated to have been subject to online solicitation, such as unwanted sexual act requests by adults or other youths.

To date, HDF has provided Childlight with £25 million to produce data exposing the scale and horror of CSEA. This data is being shared internationally to make better evidence-based decisions, including where to direct finite resources globally.

The new funding deal with INTERPOL will be confirmed in a formal contract expected to be signed shortly.

All of the UK’s main political parties have used the general election campaign to pledge further action, ranging from taxing social media companies to fund mental health services for children to new age restrictions on access to mobile phones and apps.

Childlight is a global child safety data institute, hosted by the University of Edinburgh. Its vision is to utilise academic research expertise to better understand the nature and prevalence of child sexual exploitation and abuse to help inform policy responses to tackling it.

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