On Thursday, February 4, 2021, Senator Ron Wyden re-introduced the Invest in Child Safety Act. The legislation, which CWLA has endorsed, was first introduced last year. It attempts to deal with the child sexual abuse problem that has exploded over the past few years as the use of the internet and related social media have expanded over the past decade.
The bill would create an Office to Enforce and Protect Against Child Sexual Exploitation within the President’s Executive Office. Other features of the legislation include increased funding for evidence-based programs, local governments, and non-federal entities to detect, prevent and support victims of child sexual abuse, including school-based mental health services and prevention programs like the Children’s Advocacy Centers; increase prosecutors and agents in the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (from 30 to 120), and within six months, the new office will report to Congress on a cross-department and agency strategy to address child sexual exploitation through social media and the internet.
The legislation is cosponsor by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Mazie Hirono (D-HA) and sponsored in the House by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA)
In September 2019, the Children’s Monitor highlighted a New York Times article that provided a detailed analysis of how child sexual abuse through social media and the internet has exploded. The article noted that there were over 3,000 child sexual abuse imageries reported in 1998, increasing to 100,000 reports of child sexual abuse imagery in 2000 rising even more to over 1 million reports in 2014 and over 45 million images and videos flagged as child sexual abuse on the dark web by 2018. The article noted the failure to enforce or follow up on a 2008 law that was supposed to track and report on what some people label child pornography and what many victims describe as child sexual abuse.
The Wyden legislation, first developed before the COVID-19 pandemic, is even more critical today as more children and youth are connected to the internet regularly. Some of the tactics child sexual perpetrators use online can be similar to the tactics used when a predator has direct contact with a child or youth, including forms of “grooming.” With the internet, predators can sometimes pose as children or young people interacting through chatrooms and game room communities. With wild and irresponsible conspiracy theories of child sexual abuse being promoted by questionable and dangerous online groups, it becomes even more important to focus on genuine instances of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
In endorsing the bill, Chris James-Brown, CEO & President of CWLA, said, “We know there is strong evidence that child sexual abuse through the internet and social media is exploding at a frightening rate. The child victims are helpless and even hidden from their parents. With the increased use of the internet and social media during this pandemic, this issue is even more urgent. We support Senator Ron Wyden’s efforts through the “Invest in Child Safety Act” to address this by strengthening enforcement mechanisms, pushing to have the federal government live up to requirements enacted several years ago, and by providing greater support to the child victims and their families.”
Other groups endorsing the legislation include the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, National Children’s Alliance, and the Family Online Safety Institute. For a one-page summary, go here.