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Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation – a Polish Perspective

It is not common to find data specifically from Polish-speaking individuals affected by child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE), making the recently published report by Protect Children particularly valuable and insightful.

Technological advances have undoubtedly had a significant impact on making CSAE a global issue. In many cases, the perpetrator and the child victim are separated by hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres. When analysing global statistics, it is easy to lose sight of the local dimension of the problem and, consequently, the specific needs and opportunities to address it at this level.

Protect Children is a Finnish NGO that works internationally to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. The organisation conducts research, raises awareness of the risks children face, and recommends actions to mitigate them. Its initiatives include online surveys such as #OurVoice and ‘Help us to help you‘, which aim to better understand the experiences of both victims and potential offenders to design more effective prevention strategies.

In a recently published document entitled ‘Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Poland: Experiences of Polish-Speaking Survivors and Insights from Offenders’, Protect Children summarises the data collected from Polish-speaking respondents to its surveys. The report reveals several important conclusions:

Crimes of online sexual abuse and exploitation against children are increasingly occurring in Poland, as large-scale cases and recent studies have demonstrated. A Europol operation targeting child sexual exploitation online led to 49 arrests in Poland, revealing around 170,000 files depicting child sexual abuse.4 A recent study in Poland surveying young people aged 13-17 found that more than one in four respondents (26%) has been sexually abused without physical contact in their lives.

The Polish judiciary is taking significant steps to recognise and address the increase of crimes of sexual violence against children occurring online. A recent court ruling found, for the first time, that an offence committed wholly online was considered “virtual rape”.6 The perpetrator in the case was found to have coerced eight children between the ages of 10-17 to send photos and videos, before blackmailing them with their images. The perpetrator was charged, inter alia, with Article 197 § 2 of the Criminal Code, which is commonly associated with the crime of rape. The recognition of the judiciary of the seriousness of online crimes of sexual violence against children is a vital step towards tackling the issue and awarding victims with justice.

The document shares alarming information about the widespread access of respondents, while they were underage, to child sexual abuse material (CSAM). This indicates that there is still insufficient action on the internet to curb the dissemination of this type of content.

Also of note is the worryingly high number of respondents who never sought help or mentioned their online behaviour to anyone. This means that much of the information about this phenomenon is still hidden, making it more difficult to estimate its true scale and select appropriate countermeasures.

For a comment on the quoted publication, we asked our expert in the area of preventing and combating CSAE, Katarzyna Staciwa, a former Polish Police officer, criminologist and sexologist:

Project #OurVoice, implemented by the Finnish NGO Protect Children, provides unique data on the phenomenon of child sexual abuse. Among the information regarding potential perpetrators, it is alarming to note their contact with materials depicting child sexual exploitation. As many as 75% of them admitted that this happened when they were under 18 years old. This is proof that the actions taken so far to limit the availability of these materials online have not been sufficiently effective, and further solutions need to be sought. Certainly, one such solution is the regulation proposed by the European Commission, which includes special obligations for providers of relevant information society services.

The information that 31% of respondents sought contact with children after viewing materials depicting their sexual exploitation carries a message about the importance of prevention in this area, especially early intervention towards such individuals.

The results of the quoted surveys not only highlight the severity of the problem but also underscore how much more needs to be done to stop CSAE crimes. Additionally, they reveal a gap in the actions taken by Polish institutions and organisations in addressing this issue.

Therefore, stemming from the work and experience of the Polish Platform for Homeland Security and our experts, we are working to help establish a new foundation to address many of the challenges in this space. Among other things, the new organisation will:

  • Make efforts towards launching a helpline aimed at people concerned about their sexual thoughts about children;
  • Work on improving training and awareness-raising materials for various stakeholders relevant to this area.

We will share more information about the foundation in the coming weeks. For the moment, please review the excellent work of Protect Children.

Launching Sparks in the Dark: A New Ally in the Fight Against Child Sexual Abuse

Every year, millions of children worldwide face the horrors of child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE), a pervasive issue that demands urgent action. In response to this critical issue, ‘Sparks in the Dark’ was launched to leverage collective knowledge to help combat CSAE effectively. By fostering collaboration and sharing vital resources, ‘Sparks in the Dark’ seeks to create a unified front to protect our most vulnerable and drive positive change across the globe.

Read the article »