This week, the Tech Coalition and its members, in partnership with WeProtect Global Alliance, hosted its 2023 Multi-Stakeholder Forum. This biennial event convened experts and those working on the front lines against child sexual exploitation and abuse to grow our shared understanding and develop solutions to combat online financial sextortion of children and teens.
This harm takes place when a predatory actor earns a young person’s trust, most often by disguising themselves as a peer. After that young person is convinced to share intimate images of him or herself, the offender reveals they are not who they said they were. Instead, at an unrelenting pace, the offender begins to threaten to share the young person’s images with their friends and family if they do not continue to send them money. The offender leverages and weaponizes the young person’s sense of shame and anxiety to extort them, making them feel helpless and in the most acute cases, feeling there is no way out but to end their own life.
This urgent issue has seen an alarming increase in reports to authorities and demands a whole of society approach to support young people, educate their communities, and stop those who seek to exploit and abuse them. Over two days, more than 150 participants from across sectors - tech, finance, policy, civil society, academia, medicine, and law enforcement - joined in person with more tuning in virtually. Designed to build collaboration across sectors, identify current gaps and challenges, and brainstorm solutions, the Forum’s agenda enabled us to build and strengthen relationships across and within sectors essential in this fight.
Discussions and brainstorming across both days kept young people and victims at the center of the conversation, advocating for ways to avoid feeling shame and instead giving them the tools to stay safe. Experts shared about the impact to children and teens targeted in this abuse and then presented research from industry, law enforcement, and finance to expose the trends in bad actor tactics and identify gaps in knowledge between sectors that each see a different piece of the problem. This included a threat landscape assessment from Crisp, as well as the latest from Snap in their research on digital well-being that found nearly two-thirds of Generation Z teens and young adults, in six countries, said they or their friends have been targeted in online “sextortion” schemes.
Breakout sessions provided smaller settings to dive further into specific factors and how they can create opportunities and challenges for prevention, detection, and support to victims. Participants discussed what’s needed to balance safety and privacy, technical specialists brainstormed optimizing how tooling and human review work together, and child safety practitioners presented designs for effective reporting and support systems.
Consistent across sessions was identifying where more information-sharing is needed within and across sectors to understand the full picture of the problem and to measure the impact of any efforts designed to combat this abuse. Looking at what strides we are already making - including a new initiative from Thorn and the Tech Coalition to provide technology to companies to detect attempts of grooming online - we explored how latest progress can help us continue to develop solutions.
Across the board, the urgent need for programs that empower and inform young people so that prevention and support starts with their ability to advocate for themselves was clear. Brainstorming on prevention focused on making information and resources approachable to young people and their communities. Brainstorming on efforts for response highlighted the need to enhance resources and access to information for use by law enforcement and amongst industry to detect harm and take action.
We are grateful to everyone from around the world who participated in person and online. It is only through collaboration, amongst industry and with other sectors critical to the solutions, that we make progress. This week’s Multi-Stakeholder Forum was our latest step in the fight to keep children and teens safe while they connect, learn, and explore, and now our work continues.