The most horrific was discovering what was very obviously a large interconnected group of child sex abusers on Facebook. Being aware of Facebook’s inadequate policies and procedures, I reported this to law enforcement instead – the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) in the UK. I did have contact with SOCA’s Attaché in Washington DC for a short while as the child sex abusers were located in the US, but I never heard back on the result of my report.
I don’t believe this will ever leave me, and I doubt I will ever know what happened to those children, if they were saved, if the abusers were jailed, or even if anything was done at all. I only know I did what I could to reach the relevant authority, then I had no further choice but to leave it in their hands.
How do you think the rights of women and girls worldwide are enhanced by social networks?
I think social networks can be brilliant to educate and bring women and girls together to fight and campaign against male violence and other human rights abuses. Issues can be brought to light to large audiences quickly, and support for campaigns generated at a super-fast rate.
In countries, communities, and homes everywhere, where information may be scarce or misinformation may be spread – such as about the nature of abuse within abusive homes – women and girls can learn the truth, understand what they are suffering is not acceptable, not their fault, and how they might be able to take action, including reaching out to other survivors and networks of survivors, and organisations that can provide real support and help.
Knowledge is empowering, and social networks help spread knowledge, but not everyone has online access, and even for those who do, not all are in positions to take action to save themselves or another. However, with the internet, there’s more chance of this being a reality for more people than it ever was before.
What do you think social networks sites can do to be more friendly—and safe—for women and girls?
I don’t use many sites regularly apart from Facebook and Twitter. It seems Twitter now has a report abuse button following on from the campaigning of many people supporting Kim Graham’s petition calling for a report abuse button after feminist campaigner, journalist and broadcaster, Caroline Criado-Perez, was bombarded with rape threats.
However, the report abuse button on Twitter comes with what I view as too many questions that are likely to put many people off reporting abuse – this could be simplified and made more user-friendly, as it should be. There also seems to be options lacking, such as to report suspected child abuse and human trafficking.
Facebook is another issue. They need to change so much. They have to not only remove images, profiles, pages and groups promoting child sex abuse, other violence against women and girls, and those inciting hate such as homophobia and racism, which they often refuse to as they do not deem them inappropriate, but they also must work with law enforcement to seek the perpetrators of abuse.
There are children trafficked on Facebook. Removing their pictures won’t help them escape captivity and the hell of the abuse they’re suffering. In fact, reporting such images directly to Facebook gives the perpetrators of abuse a warning and they are more likely to go underground, moving locations and making them even harder to find and the victims an even lesser chance of being rescued.
Law enforcement globally needs to be involved and Facebook has a responsibility to invest heavily in this: these human rights abuses are happening on their platforms; they are hosting these images of child sex abuse and advertising trafficked children.
Facebook, among other internet giants, have joined the Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children taskforce, which aims to develop tools to find child sex abuse content on an automatic basis. But this is a new project, and as such, results are yet to be seen.
What do you think social networks owners should do to insure safety on their sites?
Reporting abuse of any kind from bullying, which has already led to deaths, to suspected human trafficking and images of child sex abuse must be a simple process and must involve law enforcement.
There needs to be links to report directly to global law enforcement agencies such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in the UK, and for the US, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Facebook and other social networking sites should not have the power to make life and death decisions. Right now, they do, and that has to stop. These decisions, which often rest on whether a reported image, comment, or profile may or may not be deemed inappropriate, dangerous or life threatening, must be made by experienced law enforcement.
It seems crazy I am even saying this now, as it’s insane that this is not already the case. How can it be that people without adequate training, and without probably even understanding the gravity their decisions have on the lives of others, are responsible for choosing what action should or should not be taken, which could end someone’s life, continue their torture and abuse, or save them from a hell most people cannot even imagine?
Apart from the element of fully involving law enforcement in all these issues, the user community has to be involved for this to work properly. Both the global security expert, Rik Ferguson, and survivor of child sex abuse, which included being a victim of child sex abuse images, David Zimmerman, who I both recently interviewed on this subject agreed on this. The scale is so large, the user community has to be involved, and for that to be done effectively, reporting must be simplified and be sent to the appropriate agencies, not an administrator at a social networking site who is not qualified, trained or has the knowledge to decide this, nor the right to decide either.
What is your vision of how social networks could shape our world?
As Rik Ferguson, Global VP of Security Research at Trend Micro, said in his recent interview with me, “social media in general is used as a tool of communication…and like any tool, it can be abused and misused as well as used for good.” Social networking companies need to take responsibility and work with law enforcement to ensure malevolent use is prevented and use intelligence gathered from social networking sites to catch the perpetrators and free those being abused.
There is so much good that can come from making connections online with people all over the world, who before social networks existed we would never have had the chance to encounter. Alliances can be made to combat all kinds of abuses and wrongs; campaigns have already proved this to be true. And for survivors of abuse, like myself, becoming part of online communities with others who have suffered similar traumas can be so powerful in our healing processes as well as making injustices in the world known and taking real constructive action to make positive differences worldwide.
But the policing of social networking sites is essential, and the social networking organisations need to realise their privileged positions of power, be responsible in ensuring safety and work with law enforcement to guarantee this happens.
Ruth Jacobs is the author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from her own life. Ruth studied prostitution in the late 1990s and has firsthand experience of many of the topics she writes about such as post-traumatic stress disorder, rape, and drug and alcohol addiction. In addition to fiction writing, Ruth is also involved in non-fiction, journalism and broadcasting for charity and human rights campaigning in the areas of anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking.
Latest posts by Trista Hendren (see all)
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