Pope says tech firms must tackle exploitation of children on the internet

The Pope was addressing a two-day conference, which was jointly organised by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Child Dignity Alliance and the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities and a follow-up on the World Congress on “Child Dignity in the Digital World” in 2017. The Conference ran from the 14 to 15 November.

The conference also heard from H.H. Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates, H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden, and His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

They were joined by 80 invited experts including representatives of international organisations, NGOs, technological companies, economic operators, politicians, jurists and religious leaders from all around the world to discuss ways to combat children being exploited on line.

The Pope told the conference that the “spread of images of abuse or the exploitation of minors is increasing exponentially, involving ever more serious and violent forms of abuse and ever younger children.”

The Pope said that the challenge we face as a society “is to ensure that minors have safe access to these technologies, while at the same time ensuring their healthy and serene development and protecting them from unacceptable criminal violence or grave harm to the integrity of their body and spirit.”

The Pope said the church “senses the duty to approach these issues with a long-term vision,” particularly in circumstances where the church itself continues to confront the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

The Pope noted that “In recent decades, from painful and tragic experience, the Catholic Church has become profoundly aware of the gravity and effects of the sexual abuse of minors, the suffering it causes and the urgent need to heal wounds, combat such crimes and establish effective means of prevention.”

While he noted that development of new technologies provides great opportunities for children in terms of their education and personal growth, allows for a wider sharing of knowledge and offers new possibilities in many areas of their lives, he went on to say that the challenge facing us is to balance these opportunities and possibilities with the need to ensure that children have safe access to these technologies and to protect them from unacceptable criminal violence or harm.

The Pope observed that the use of digital technology to arrange, commission and engage in child abuse at a distance “…is outstripping the efforts and resources of the institutions and security agencies charged with combating such abuse; as a result, it becomes quite difficult to fight these horrific crimes effectively.”

In terms of what measures can be taken to prevent such abuse the Pope emphasised two things:-

  1. While freedom and protection of privacy are valued principles he said that they needed to be balanced with the common good of society:
  2. Large companies who operate across national borders and who are at the cutting edge of advances in technology cannot he said consider themselves unaccountable in terms of the services they provide for their customers. He called on these companies to assume their responsibility towards children and said without their commitment and without a full awareness of the moral and social repercussions of their management and functioning it will not be possible to guarantee the safety of minors in the future digital world.

Although parents have the primary responsibility for raising their children, the Pope said, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to control their children’s use of electronic devices and he advocated that tech leaders “cooperate with parents” to develop new regulations to restrict children’s access to pornography.

What is clear from the Pope’s address is that greater partnership between industry, Government and law enforcement will be required if we are to solve online abuse in the long term.


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Written by Sharon Moohan, partner, BLM

sharon.moohan@blmlaw.com

Queensland’s State Parliament passes new legislation to support victims of abuse in pursuing compensation claims

On 30 October 2019 the State Parliament of Queensland passed the Civil Liability and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 which has made it easier for victims of abuse in that state to successfully pursue claims. The legislation widens the definition of abuse to include serious physical and psychological abuse, thereby allowing more victims in Queensland to access compensation under Australia’s National Redress Scheme.

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This week at IICSA

A three day public hearing is due to take place at IICSA this week, starting 26 November, in connection with the second phase of the Accountability and Reparations investigation.

IICSA will hear evidence from a range of practitioners, including insurers who handle civil claims received from victims and survivors, solicitors acting for victims and survivors, solicitors who represent organisations facing accusations, as well as other interested parties.

The hearing will look at whether the law of limitation in civil cases should be reformed, and whether a redress scheme should be implemented. At present, the law on limitation sets out that claims must be brought within a set window, save if the defendant chooses not to raise this as a defence, or the court is satisfied that the strict test for setting aside limitation (s33 Limitation Act 1980) is met.

In due course, the inquiry will consider whether the mechanisms currently in place adequately support victims and survivors.

These hearings follow on from the preliminary hearing which took place last month, the transcript for which can be found here.

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Epstein’s estate considering compensation fund

The executors of Jeffrey Epstein’s estate have asked a United States Virgin Islands judge for permission to establish a compensation fund, intended for those who have accused the late Epstein of sexually abusing them.

Epstein passed away in his Manhattan prison cell in August this year, with his death officially ruled a suicide. His brother rejects the official findings and has instructed his own pathologist, whose report is said to conclude that Epstein’s injuries may not have been self-inflicted.

Epstein’s assets were placed in a trust shortly before his death, with his estate said to be worth $577 million. He was due to stand trial for sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors, and had pleaded not guilty to all the charges. He had previously entered into a plea deal in 2006 for other charges of unlawful sex acts with a minor. The plea deal has since been widely criticised.

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Australian actor accused of indecent assaults during performances of The Rocky Horror Show

Australian actor, Craig McLachlan, who appeared in Neighbours and Home and away in the 1980’s and 1990’s, has denied allegations of assault and indecent assault at a Melbourne Magistrates court on Monday 18 November 2019. Four co-stars, who were part of a production of the Rocky Horror Show in 2014, have made allegations relating to Mr McLachlan’s behaviour whilst performing a bedroom scene out of sight of the audience. Part of the scene required Mr McLachlan to simulate sex acts, however it is alleged that he acted beyond the scope of the direction provided by the director in that he kissed a co-stars neck, stomach and buttock as well as used his finger to trace the outline of her genitals. Another accuser alleges that, without being directed to do so, he forced his tongue into his co-stars mouth and pushed his groin into her stomach area. A third accuser stated that he had tickled her foot and reached towards her groin, out of the sight of the audience. When confronted, the accusers allege that Mr McLachlan acted defensively. It is Mr McLachlan’s case that some events did not occur and those that did take place were not indecent. He also claims to have been given licence and discretion to ad lib scenes by the director.

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Limitation: A look at the state of Florida

Florida’s statute of limitations is not clear cut and is difficult to navigate. In 2010, the state abolished the criminal statute of limitations for cases involving sexual battery (rape) against children. However, this only applies to cases where the child was under 16 years old, and limitation had not already expired on 1 July 2010. Prior to this law’s enactment, the limitations period varied.

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IICSA publishes Thematic Report on child abuse in the context of children’s homes and residential care

On 7 November IICSA published the Truth Project Thematic Report on child sexual abuse in the context of children’s homes and residential care.

Readers of the Blog will be familiar with the Truth Project, which was established to hear in private from the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse about their experiences.

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