Child sexual abuse in the digital environment
Tackling and preventing child abuse in different European countries

European Study Seminar on child abuse in the digital world co-organised by COFACE Families Europe and Step by Step Parents Association Croatia brought together colleagues from various countries. The aim of the seminar was to learn more about the CAP approach in Croatia, exchange ideas with practitioners from other countries working also to prevent child abuse, assess together how to upgrade programmes to prevent child abuse online, and finally to build partnerships between family organisations and Safer Internet Centres.

Every child has the right to be protected from all forms of violence. Nevertheless, about 1 in 5 children in Europe become victims of sexual abuse, and in recent years reports of child sexual abuse online have dramatically increased. The rapid development of technology has led to new forms of sexual abuse against children, with the abuse increasingly occurring online or being facilitated by technologies. This includes, for example, grooming and the distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

The European Commission proposed a new regulation in 2022 putting forward rules for online platforms to prevent, detect and report CSAM, but no agreement has been reached so far. On 6 February 2023, the Commission furthermore proposed the recast of the Child Sexual Abuse Directive, which will update the minimum rules on definitions and sanctions in the light of the increased use of evolving technologies in relation to this offence. It also puts forward more specific requirements for prevention and assistance to victims.

The Child Assault Prevention (CAP) programme is one of the most comprehensive and innovative prevention programmes for child abuse in the world. The original CAP programme began to be implemented in the United States in 1978. The International Centre for Assault Prevention (ICAP), founded in 1985, has expanded the programme to other countries around the world. This central organisation does not exist anymore, but the programme continues to be implemented in Regional Training Centres.

Step by Step Parents Association is such a Regional Training Centre in Croatia where they train facilitators to implement the CAP programme. The CAP programme equips children with effective prevention strategies to reduce their vulnerability and exposure to various forms of violence. Additionally, it ensures better support for parents, guardians, and educators. The programme has several variants that are intended for children of different ages and needs: preschool, kindergarten, teenagers, and children with disabilities.

During the meeting we followed presentations by Child Focus Belgium, KMOP Greece, The Brave Movement Spain, IWF UK, INHOPE, the Bulgarian Safer Internet Center, the Centre for Missing and Exploited Children Croatia, Väestöliitto Finland and UNAF Spain. We also discussed the current state of affairs in Europe including the Digital Services Act and its impact on children and families, The Better Internet for Kids Plus strategy and its different initiatives, The Artificial Intelligence Act and others.

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