As we start the new year, we at Mission Haven have a renewed drive to reach out to more sexually abused children. But, as always, we're not just focused on caring for domestic minor sex trafficking victims; we are even more concerned about educating as many people as possible about the issue and ultimately ending the menace.
Thankfully, 2021 saw an increase in the call for a safe environment for our children, so there's been way more awareness on the subject than before, and more technology-driven solutions have been created to combat online child abuse. But we've still got many more miles to go. Current data make it clear that there's more work to be done to ensure the safety of our children on and offline. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently received its 100 millionth report of online child sexual exploitation. And that says a lot.
At the Mission Haven, we really believe that we can have a world where our kids can just be kids, without their innocence inundated with child sexual abuse materials and wanton exposure to sexual exploitation. To achieve this, we have some recommendations that we think can help.
Amplifying awareness initiatives and messaging to parents, guardians, and the communities
No doubt, in all efforts to end the sexual exploitation of children, the most challenging part is actually starting the conversation. Most folks would rather turn away from an uncomfortable topic like this one than face it head-on. In our opinion, breaking the ice and getting the conversation going everywhere, with more educational materials, reports, news, and messaging to the youth especially, is an excellent way to go.
We know that there are people who are still oblivious of child sexual exploitation activities going on around them. Some are aware but unsure how to address the situation when faced with it. In some cases, parents are not even aware of what measures to put in place to safeguard their kids. In light of this, we encourage the continued sharing of information about the risks, how to spot a sexual abuse or trafficking situation, and how to report suspected cases to appropriate authorities.
Complete removal of all CSAM from the internet
Last year, in December, we talked about using technology to identify, remove, and report child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) found on the Internet. The truth is, as long as CSAM continues to travel across the internet, kids are still not safe. Without strategic controls, which are hardly enough, the internet of today is anti-child. Parents have a lot of work to do in this regard.
As more tools and solutions continue to emerge, organizations, whether for-profit or non-profit, need to actively and deliberately support the removal of CSAM from their ecosystem. Until every website with an upload button integrates tools like Safer into their system, our children may never know safety online.
Parents/Guardians have a significant role to play
This was also part of our discussion last year. We do acknowledge that these can be discomforting conversations for parents to have. Nonetheless, parents and caregivers must have these conversations with their kids and teenagers. You will be surprised to discover the alarming number of kids that fall into the hands of traffickers every year.
We believe that when parents are more involved in the lives of their children/wards, they are more likely to spot irregularities in their behavior and find a way to address the issue.
By the way, children are more comfortable sharing their deepest challenges when they are surrounded by an atmosphere of love, devoid of judgment.
Helping every child interact safely online
While we are committed to supporting efforts to build communities where every child can simply be a kid, we are equally positioned to ensure that children faced with abuse can access timely help.
The Mission Haven runs a fully-equipped shelter that takes in and caters to the mental, social, and economic needs of kids and teenagers who have been exposed to all forms of sexual abuse, including commercial sex exploitation and sex trafficking.