Public Opinion is Clear: Urgent Legislation Required to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation! Read the story

Harmful content: Why does it matter?

Posted on Oct 19, 2021

Why it is important to report child sexual abuse material you think is illegal?

Reporting online child sexual abuse material is key to help combat the issue. 

Content which is illegal should not be on the Internet in the first place. 

When any Internet user comes across something that they think may be harmful to children, whether illegal or not, they should take action to protect children. The best way to do this is to report it to the company providing the service where they found it, and/or to specialised organisations, whether law enforcement, hotlines, child helplines or other child protection services that are trained to determine whether something is illegal and what to do if it is, such as our partner INHOPE

If illegal content is found,  it should be deleted from the digital environment from which it is being stored and accessed, so as to minimise the risk of onward distribution or downloading. If the illegal content has been posted on to a third party platform, they too should delete it and take whatever other steps are necessary to limit any further distribution.

However, there is a great deal of other material on the Internet which, though not illegal for adults to access or consume, is nevertheless extremely harmful to children. Extremely violent images for example, information about suicide, self-harm and eating disorders or propaganda which distorts history or current affairs, typically in support of a political project or which incites violence or hatred against other people, are other examples.  Pornography is a class of material which, in many countries while lawful, is not meant to be accessible to children because of the harmful impact it can have on their view of sex, relationships and in particular gender relations. 

A great many countries are looking for ways to ensure children cannot access harmful content while preserving the rights of adults to do so. This is complex and the response is likely to continue to vary between countries. However, as an internet user, you can play an important role by reporting content that you think is illegal or harmful to children, specifically by reporting users who post/send illegal content.  

What are the developments for Project Beacon in 2022?

Since we wrote this article, there have been inevitably developments in terms of EU law and policy that tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse. On 14 July 2021, the temporary derogation to the E-Privacy Directive was published in the official journal of the EU [1]. This directive maintains the status quo for what concerns the proactive use of technology to detect CSAM by online service providers in the EU. The E-privacy Directive has a timeline of three years, and it is essential that longer-term legislation to tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation is introduced by 13 July 2024.

For this reason, since 2021, ECPAT International is advocating, through Project Beacon, to ensure child protection from sexual abuse and exploitation within the European Digital Services Act that is going to be finalised between April and May 2022- Additionally, Project Beacon advocates for a more comprehensive EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse.

ECPAT continues to work in close partnership with organisations across the EU and globally to advocate for child protection in digital environments. This means leveraging and sharing collective expertise, networks, and voices. ECPAT believes that protecting children from exploitation and abuse online is both possible and essential, and will continue to fight for the best outcomes for children in all relevant EU and international processes.

[1] Regulation (EU) 2021/1232 on a temporary derogation from certain provisions of Directive 2002/58/EC as regards the use of technologies by providers of number-independent interpersonal communications services for the processing of personal and other data for the purpose of combating online child sexual abuse.


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