By Ron McNamara, International Policy Director
Foreign Ministers from the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe approved a major initiative on combating a wide range of sexually exploitative crimes against children, including prostitution, child pornography, trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, sex tourism and forced marriages of children. A collaborative effort spearheaded by the United States, Belgium and France, the decision was unanimously agreed in recognition “that sexual exploitation of children constitutes a grave and heinous crime, in many cases involving organized crime that must be prevented, investigated, prosecuted and penalized with all available means.” The decision, taken during the annual Ministerial Council meeting, held in Brussels, provides political impetus to enhance cooperation among law enforcement agencies throughout the OSCE region.
The statement issued by the Council condemns the sexual exploitation of children in all its forms, urging the participating States to conform their legislation on this subject to their relevant international commitments and obligations. Progress in strengthening the legal framework to combat these forms of abuse and close existing gaps is viewed by experts as essential to effective action by law enforcement, especially as these crimes often involve entities in numerous countries. The need for greater uniformity in relevant laws was made clear in a comprehensive report, Child Pornography: Model Legislation & Global Review, issued in 2006 by the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children in cooperation with Interpol. Surveying laws in 184 Interpol member countries, the report found that more than half of these countries (95) had no laws addressing child pornography and, in many other countries, the existing laws were inadequate.
Among OSCE countries, the report found that six countries lacked any laws criminalizing any aspect of child pornography, with 32 countries lacking any legal definition of child pornography. Sixteen OSCE countries have failed to make the possession of child pornography a crime and 20 lack laws criminalizing the distribution of child pornography via computer and the Internet. Fifty OSCE countries do not require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to report suspected child pornography to law enforcement. To date, Belgium, France and the United States are the only OSCE countries to have enacted comprehensive laws addressing all five areas analyzed in the report. The Ministers drew particular attention to the role played by new technologies, including the Internet, in facilitating the sexual exploitation of children, in an industry with revenues in the billions of dollars each year.
States were urged to take a holistic approach toward the problem of sexual exploitation of children, addressing root and contributing factors, including the demand that fosters all forms of sexual exploitation of children, and to develop comprehensive and proactive strategies and measures aimed at preventing and combating the sexual exploitation of children. OSCE countries were encouraged to develop compatible and exchangeable data registration systems specific to the sexual exploitation of children as well as create telephone or Internet hotlines as a resource for victims and their families. They were likewise urged to work with ISPs, credit card companies, banks and other corporations as well as relevant NGOs, to ensure information related to the sexual exploitation of children is tracked and reported.
In addition, the Ministerial decision included a series of specific recommendations for further action by the participating States, many aimed at strengthening the tools available to law enforcement, including adoption of legal measures that would allow them to prosecute their citizens for serious sexual crimes against children, even if these crimes are committed in another country. OSCE States were urged to aggressively prosecute the sexual exploitation of children and impose tough penalties on offenders perpetrating such crimes.
The Council recommended the establishment of training programs concerning sexual exploitation of children for personnel, including those working in the areas of justice, policing, tourism, transport, social work, health care, civil society, religious organizations, and education. Similarly, Ministers called for countries to facilitate legal protection, assistance, appropriate medical care, and rehabilitation and reintegration programs for child victims of sexual exploitation as well as efforts for the safe return of trafficked children.
The OSCE, as an organization, was encouraged to pay increased attention to these issues, including the links to trafficking in persons, and to cooperate with other international organizations, NGOs and civil society in combating the sexual exploitation of children.
The Brussels Ministerial decision on sexual exploitation of children originated, in large part, from a resolution sponsored by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith and managed by Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts during the Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly convened in the Belgian capital in July 2006. That proposal, “Combating Trafficking and the Exploitation of Children in Pornography,” was overwhelmingly approved by parliamentarians from the participating States.
A Helsinki Commission hearing, “Protecting Children: The Battle Against Child Pornography and Other Forms Of Sexual Exploitation” was held on September 27, 2006, to assess the magnitude of abuse against children. In opening remarks, Co-Chairman Smith explained, “The anti-trafficking efforts have convinced me that combating sexual exploitation of children in all of its forms requires even more comprehensive laws, as well as effective partnerships between local, state, and federal law enforcement, and the nongovernmental communities at all levels, and that includes international.” Smith noted strong indicators that those captivated by pornography are more likely to become predators and purveyors themselves, further feeding the cycle. As with other addictive behaviors, these individuals are often driven into more extreme acts of preying on younger victims or employing violence. He observed that organized crime, including gangs, also appears to be venturing further into the lucrative trade in children. As a result, global criminal networks are springing up, further complicating efforts to prosecute those responsible for these horrendous crimes against children.
James E. Finch, assistant director of the Cyber Division of the FBI discussed the Bureau’s efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of children through the use of the Internet and promote closer cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies. James Plitt, the unit chief of the Cyber Crimes Center of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement stressed “that the issue of child exploitation is enormous and multidimensional. Furthermore, any potential solution to this issue must be multidimensional….collectively, we need to understand the challenge we face, and we need to understand the trends, techniques and vulnerabilities of those engaged in international criminal business enterprises,” he concluded. On the question of limited resources, Plitt noted, “If we had triple the investigative resources, we would still have investigative leads untouched.” Finch underscored the challenges faced by law enforcement given the relative ease and limited expense involved in setting up exploitative web sites. Commissioner Mike McIntyre urged greater partnership between law enforcement and the public to identify perpetrators of these crimes as well as aggressive investigation and prosecution of them.
Linda Smith, founder of Shared Hope International and a former Member of Congress, presented the findings of the U.S. Mid-term Review on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in America, identifying five key issues which stand out as the most immediate and urgent needs to protect America’s children: confront the demand side of exploitation; aggressively pursue those responsible for the online trafficking in children; ensure sufficient services for victims, especially shelter; expand cooperation between law enforcement agencies at all levels; and further strengthen Federal law. She made an impassioned call to decriminalize the prostituted minor, “What we’ve found was that these kids, when identified, are called prostitutes, and they’re quickly moved into detention when they’re found, treated like a criminal, and then, when released, put in a foster care system where they bleed out. We do not have child prostitutes. We have prostituted children.” With respect to pornography, she decried the marketing to recruit boys as clients as well as the explosion of pornographic images of children creating demand for direct sexual violation of children.
Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA discussed multilateral efforts to more effectively combat the sexual exploitation of children. She cited demand and prevention as major of common concern as well as the need to keep pace with rapidly changing technologies. Commissioner Pitts voiced particular concern that law enforcement have the tools necessary to adapt to technological challenges. Turning to the role of organized crime and gangs in exploitation, Smolenski observed, “you’d be hard-pressed to talk to a service provider who has not found gang involvement with child prostitution these days…yes, gangs are definitely a part of it and a growing part of it.”
Dr. Mohamed Mattar, executive director of the Protection Project at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, touched on several positive developments in the fight against the sexual exploitation of children: expansion of criminal liability; extension of territorial jurisdiction; and enhancement of child protection, including the abolition of a statute of limitations. He welcomed Senate ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime of 2001. Mattar made a series of recommendations to enhance implementation of relevant U.S. law. He urged funding to back up U.S. efforts to prevent sex tourism, while citing laws in Sweden, Switzerland, and The Netherlands as particularly problematic. Dr. Mattar called for funding to support research on victims of child exploitation; establishing programs to expand state law enforcement officials’ capabilities in prosecuting demand and providing services for victims; shifting the focus of the United States toward penalizing the purchaser of sexual services; and mobilizing countries to enact Internet laws that protect children from commercial sexual exploitation.
Ernie Allen, chairman and chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, focused largely on commercial child pornography, a multibillion-dollar industry, stressing that children are plentiful and easily accessed; child pornography is easy and inexpensive to produce; there is a huge consumer market for it, making it enormously profitable; and, finally, historically there’s been virtually no risk, far less risk than trading in drugs or guns.
Allen presented his candid conclusion, “Most people don’t understand what this problem really is; there’s a real misconception. But what we are finding and what law enforcement is finding is that the victims are getting younger and the content, the images, are becoming more graphic and more violent. From the data on the hundreds of offenders who have been identified to date, we can report to you that 39 percent of those offenders had images of children between the ages of 3 and 5. And, 19 percent had images of children younger than 3 years old. This is not what America thinks it is.”
Few of the world’s nearly 200 countries, he pointed out, have any kind of meaningful system or capacity to adequately and effectively combat the sexual exploitation of children, especially through child pornography. Allen discussed his organizations work in training law enforcement officials around the world in the investigation of computer-facilitated crimes against children as well as initiatives to enlist the support of ISPs and leaders in the technology and banking industries in dismantling networks responsible for exploitation of children. He echoed calls for additional resources to aid law enforcement, including in the field of forensics.
In response to a suggestion from Co-Chairman Smith that the United States push for an international form of Megan’s Law aimed at sex offenders, Allen replied, “I agree 100 percent. I think it’s absolutely appropriate. It’s a prime opportunity for American leadership and the leadership of other countries on this issue. It’s unbelievably important. These offenders are mobile…offenders from other countries come here, where we have no knowledge about their history or prior record.”