Tackling the problem of child sexual exploitation
(CS) UK national Hannah Bristow has been working in the charity sector for over 10 years. After moving to Luxembourg she joined ECPAT Luxembourg, a local NGO dedicated to fighting against the sexual exploitation of children and member of the international network ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children).
“Child sexual exploitation can take many forms,” explained Hannah in an interview with wort.lu/en, from child prostitution, child sex tourism and trafficking to child sex abuse images. Co-funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ECPAT Luxembourg has two main missions – supporting projects abroad that assist children who are vulnerable to or victims of sexual exploitation and raising awareness on the issue locally.
As project manager, Hannah works in both areas, visiting and supporting the partner organisations that implement the projects overseas, reporting to donors, as well as coordinating campaigns and being involved in other awareness-raising activities in Luxembourg.
“We have a relatively small staff in Luxembourg,” said Hannah. “There are only three of us in this particular office and so it is necessary to be flexible and involved in different aspects of the organisation. It's interesting, varied and very fulfilling work,” she added.
Raising awareness for the victims of abuse
“Women and girls remain far more likely to be victims,” said Hannah. “It's undeniable that women and girls make up the greater proportion of victims of sexual violence and exploitation.” However, she also warned that boys and men should not be forgotten.
“In cultures where boys are supposed to be strong and not show signs of weakness, they will be less likely to talk about being victims of abuse,” she explained. “The danger with boys is that it is more of an invisible issue.”
In the past, ECPAT Luxembourg has funded research into the sexual exploitation of children in South America, with a particular focus on boys. “It was found that boys were less likely to consider themselves as victims, but think of themselves as in control, surviving on the streets. That makes it more difficult to prevent sexual exploitation but also to support the victims.”
Still, a day like International Women's Day “is a valuable opportunity to raise awareness on such issues,” Hannah finds. “It is important to use such as day to remind ourselves that much still remains to be done, but also to use the positive experiences of the past to inspire us.”
The dangers of the internet and new technologies
In Luxembourg, ECPAT Luxembourg mainly works on raising awareness on issues connected to the sexual exploitation of children. “Sexual exploitation exists everywhere,” stated Hannah. “Just because it's not very visible here does not mean that it doesn't happen.”
One of the biggest threats is the internet, according to Hannah. Children can unwittingly come into contact with sexual predators, maybe even be tricked into undressing in front of a webcam. “People don't always realise the extent to which information can be spread, exploited and used on the internet,” she added.
“You might have a situation where young people send compromising images of themselves to their boyfriend or girlfriend and, for whatever reason, they get out on the internet; maybe the couple split up, there could be an element of revenge...”
While such incidents can be very traumatising for the victim, the teenagers distributing these images may not realise that they may be considered to be guilty of disseminating child pornographic material in the eyes of the law, informed Hannah. “A whole lot of awareness raising needs to be done in the area of the internet and new technologies.”
“It's a vast problem”
The most important thing, though, is to talk about the problem, and not turn a blind eye, Hannah asserted. And there are things that the public can do, too.
For example, travellers and tourists can choose to use tourism and travel companies that have signed up to the Tourism Child Protection Code. Companies that have signed this code of conduct commit to developing and implementing policies and procedures to strengthen the protection of children from exploitation on their premises or within the activities they organise. ECPAT Luxembourg is the local representative for the Tourism Child Protection Code and can be contacted for further information.
“Responsible tourism is not just about the environment. As a traveller, if you see something like that, it is your obligation to report it and ensure something is done about it.”
Combating the sexual exploitation of children requires working on different fronts and with diverse partners. ECPAT Luxembourg collaborates not only with government ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tourism and the Middle Classes, Family and Justice but also with the tourism and travel industry as well as other NGOs in order to further its mission.
“There's still progress to be made,” Hannah concluded. “It's a vast problem. But we continue to be committed to our vision of a world where no child need endure such terrible suffering.”