Council of Europe Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic Buric has spoken out against the phenomenon of “sexy selfies” posted by children, on the occasion of End Child Sex Abuse Day.
Each year on this day, the CoE focusses on a different issue relating to sexual abuse against minors. This year, they chose to highlight the need to prevent risky behaviour by children including self-generated sexual images and videos.
According to CoE, children are increasingly exploring and expressing their sexuality through information and communication technologies (ICTs), in particular social media and messaging applications. This includes generating and sharing sexually suggestive or explicit images and/or videos of themselves. However, they often underestimate the risks associated with this behaviour, are under peer pressure to share such images and/or videos, or are tempted to engage in risky behaviour.
It’s essential, they say, that states develop comprehensive prevention programmes to avoid such behaviour as such images may end up online and lead to children being targeted for sexual coercion or extortion.
Pejcinovic Buric told Exit that the dark side of this concerning trend is that most of these images then go on to be used by paedophiles and are shared widely on the internet.
“Children have little knowledge of the risks they are exposing themselves to. Once online, images and videos deleted are very hard to fully remove from the web. Children can easily fall into the trap of online child sex offenders who solicit their victims to post more images or videos,’ she said.
COVID-19 has increased this risk, she said. This is due to children being at home and having more time to play and chat online. Offenders seize this opportunity and phish for images via email or unsolicited messages on social media. In addition. to this, travel restrictions have pushed a lot of child sexual abuse online.
“Without question, the coercion of children to produce such sexual images or videos of themselves should be criminalised.
When it comes to the children and teenagers who circulate images of themselves for private use, criminal prosecution should be avoided. Instead, they should receive help by specialist agencies, in particular as in many cases they can be considered victims of manipulation or coercion. and should be helped by specialised state services and NGOs”, she added.
She concluded by saying that the Lanzarote Committee is working on comprehensive recommendations to address the challenges raised by child self-generated sexual images, based on European-wide monitoring, input from NGOs and from children themselves.