Independent Group Motion on Child Abuse Material on the Internet
As a member of Seanad Éireann and the Independent Group, I relish the opportunity under Seanad Private Members Business to engage with issues I feel passionately about. I am truly proud of our Group’s recent motion, which called on the Government to introduce legislation to block access to child abuse material on the internet.
I would like to say a special thanks to Michael Moran, Acting Assistant Director of Cybersecurity and Crime and Coordinator of Crimes Against Children at Interpol and Pat McKenna, Director of ChildWatch.ie, for their extremely informative briefing to Oireachtas Members in advance of the Seanad debate.
Child abuse material is much more than a clinical definition of “child pornography” can encompass. A child abuse image is a crime scene, a digital record of sexual abuse including, rape, incest, assault, sadism, and bestiality, being perpetrated against a child. I was shocked and saddened by statistics showing that 69% of the victims depicted in child abuse material are between 0 and 10 years of age. The sheer depravity and calculation of the perpetrators is such that they are increasingly targeting children at pre-speaking age because they can’t articulate the abuse they are experiencing.
Where the images are disseminated, there is on-going harm to victims, and the number of offenders continues to grow. I was moved by the testimony of one survivor of this type of abuse who said that “[T]hose who view the image of my abuse are no different from those who made them in the first place. It feels like they are in the room, encouraging my abuse.”
Since the advent of widely available broadband, access to images of child abuse has become far simpler and more widespread. In 1995, Interpol was aware of 4,000 child abuse images in total. Recent data now puts the number of known images at over 1 million!
While other countries-including the UK, Australia, and Sweden-already have systems in place to block access to webpages containing or disseminating child abuse material hosted on servers outside their jurisdictions, there has been some resistance to the idea in Ireland.
The Independent Group motion aimed to encourage the Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, to legislate on this critical issue. Following an excellent debate, Minister Shatter made a commitment to fully consider blocking of child abuse material on the internet in the context of the development of the planned Sexual Offences Bill.
European Citizen’s Initiative
I’m really excited that the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) is coming into force on 1 April. The ECI will allow EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal, and by doing so will put citizens on the same footing as the European Parliament and the European Council. This represents a unique opportunity for European citizens and has been rightly hailed as the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy in the world! I encourage as many Irish citizens as possible to participate. I know only too well from my work with civil society and community and voluntary organisations of the quality we can bring to the process.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout