Moray House School of Education and Sport

Childlight demands urgent action against Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Data institute, Childlight, has published its research findings, highlighting gaps in current knowledge surrounding Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse – urging for global intervention.

The institute 

Childlight, a global data institute established by the Human Dignity Foundation in collaboration with, and based within, the University, has unveiled its first flagship annual report, 'Searchlight 2023.' This ground-breaking release serves as a clarion call to address the alarming global prevalence of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) and urges authorities to recognise it as an international public health emergency.

Childlight's report, a culmination of nine new research studies conducted by international multidisciplinary teams, illuminates the intricate nature of CSEA. One disturbing revelation is the early onset of abuse, with adolescents facing exploitation before their 13th birthday. Particularly troubling is the increasing victimisation of infants and toddlers in the trade of child sexual abuse material content.

The institute proposes an innovative strategy to understand and tackle CSEA among younger age groups. This involves leveraging big data from diverse sources, including technology platforms, law enforcement and health services. The aim is to create a comprehensive data blueprint, focusing on unveiling hidden abuses, especially among vulnerable populations like children with disabilities and historic abuse survivors.

The report

The report exposes a significant number of men engaging in online sexual offending behaviours. It draws attention to a ground-breaking study showcasing the disturbing online activities of a representative sample from the US, UK and Australia and highlights gaps in current knowledge.

While CSEA is pervasive globally, the report emphasises the urgent need for more extensive data coverage, especially from low and lower-middle-income countries and regarding male victims. A comprehensive review of 404 studies unveils significant gaps in understanding this critical issue, underscoring the evolving role of technology in facilitating abuse and calling for immediate updates to legislation and policies to address emerging challenges. The report criticises online content-sharing services for insufficient transparency in reporting efforts against online CSEA, citing a lack of consistency in metrics that impedes effective comparison of preventive and response efforts.

Paul Stanfield (Childlight, CEO) expressed his concern as he highlights the urgency of addressing the age at which abuse occurs, urging governments and technology providers to intensify efforts to protect young victims who cannot often advocate for themselves. Stanfield hopes that the uncomfortable realities exposed in the report will encourage radical action to safeguard children both now and in the future:

The research in this report shows some alarming trends in child sexual exploitation and abuse – perhaps most horrifying regarding just how young this abuse is occurring for many victims. It's clear that governments and technology providers in particular simply aren’t doing enough to protect children, children who in many instances are so young they can’t advocate for themselves.  

It is my hope that by shining a light on the nature of this abuse, as uncomfortable as it may be for some, we can drive tangible action that will protect children now and in the future. We can't allow the inaction and indifference of those with the power to make real change to continue when the cost to children and, indeed, all of society is so great.

Paul StanfieldChildlight’s Chief Executive Officer

Plea for action

Childlight's 'Searchlight 2023' report serves as a call to action, urging a united global effort to combat the crisis of child sexual exploitation and abuse. With an evidence-based approach and a plea for immediate action, Childlight seeks to drive transformative change and ensure the safety of vulnerable children worldwide. The report underscores the critical need for a collective front against this pervasive threat to society.

Related information

Searchlight 2023 Dashboard