Blog Series on U.S.-EU Cooperation part 2: Fighting Child Sexual Abuse

(featured image: HSI Operation Holitna recognized for extraordinary effort Oct 24, 2013 – source: ice.gov)

By Kamila Slanska, Department of Homeland Security

This is the second entry in a weekly blog series that will highlight some of the best examples of U.S.-EU cooperation. Our second example: Fighting child sexual abuse.

Why do the U.S. and EU have to coordinate to fight online child sexual abuse?

Though it’s an uphill battle, U.S. and EU coordination is making headway in identifying and arresting the perpetrators of online child sexual abuse.

In 1998, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a U.S. non-profit organization, established by Congress and funded by the Department of Justice, established a CyberTipline, through which the public and Internet service providers (ISPs) can report instances of online child abuse. Since the CyberTipline’s creation, people have reported more than 12.7 million suspected cases of child sexual abuse, which after having been reviewed by NCMEC, are made available to law enforcement. About three quarters of these cases involved prepubescent children.

Currently 94 percent of tips are related to an Internet Protocol (IP) address from outside of the United States, many of which can be traced back to Europe.

How do the U.S. and EU Cooperate to fight online child sexual abuse?

For several years, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, has acted as an intermediary between NCMEC, Europol, and European national law enforcement agencies. In fiscal year 2016 alone, HSI passed on 30,416 NCMEC leads to European agencies, which is an increase of 5,000 from the previous year. Through this coordination, Europol and HSI are often able to solve child abuse cases within days.

What are some concrete success stories of this cooperation?

Just a few examples of HSI-Europol cooperation are:

  • In Operation Holitna in 2010, HSI helped arrest a daycare worker in the Netherlands, after Dutch authorities identified a popular local cartoon character in an image provided by NCMEC. Eventually, the predator confessed to 87 cases of abuse, with the youngest child being only 19 days old. In the United States HSI Boston arrested an individual on child sexually abusive material production charges.
  • On February 24, 2015, in Romania, a 22-month old child was rescued from her father who had been sexually abusing her and posting the material online. Again, a CyberTipLine report initiated an investigation and the perpetrator was tracked down in a joint effort between HSI, Europol, and the Romanian Authorities.
  • In November 2016, a toddler and a prepubescent girl were rescued in a northern European country after their images appeared on a U.S. computer. Their abuser was arrested and so was the American who was in possession of the sexually exploitative material.

How will the coordination proceed in the future?

The European Commission recognizes the value of HSI’s contributions to protecting children in the EU from sexual abuse. As the number of European leads is growing exponentially, the European Commission is planning to contribute financially in 2017 to reinforce existing capacities in the current process for the medium and long term.

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