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Who does the EU legislator listen to, if it ain’t the experts?

There's a huge gap between the advice given by experts on child sexual abuse and the legislative proposal of the European Commission.

Ask the experts!

Take, for example, the proposal of the European CommissionEuropean Commission wants to eliminate online confidentiality on how to combat child sexual abuse. We can explain in detail the inherent risks in that proposal: why we think the proposed measures are barely effectiveSex crimes unit of police already overwhelmed, and EU lawmakers will only make it worse but will have very harmful side-effects in the meantime. And why the undermining of privacy in communication is harmful to everybody, including the children and youngsters that the lawmaker aims to protect in the first place.

But if these aren’t the right measures, then what are? Because sexual abuse of children and youngsters is a serious problem. This calls even more urgently for measures that have proven effective and are legally sound, preferably without any negative side-effects. We are not experts in fighting child sexual abuse. Thankfully we don’t have to be. There are plenty of experts, also in the Netherlands. We should listen to these experts if we want to know what needs to be done.

Experience and knowledge

We have been listening to renowned experts on how to combat child sexual abuse. There is the National RapporteurThe National Rapporteur investigates the nature and scope of human trafficking and sexual violence against children in the Netherlands, and the impact of policy measures on these issues. on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children (NRM). At the request of the government, this organisation offers advice on how to prevent and combat sexual violence against children. Or there is the Sexual Assault CenterRead more about the CSG on their website (CSG). This acts as a haven for victims of sexual assault or rape to get the help they need: forensic, medical and psychological. The organisation employs a team of doctors, nurses, police, and other aid workers to offer specialist care for victims of sexual assault and rape. All these people are experts in fighting child sexual abuse, and possess a wealth of experience, knowledge, and ideas on how to best help these victims.


If the European Commission chooses to ignore the recommendations of experts, who will it listen to?

Prevention as a priority

If you listen to the recommendations that these organisations have made over the past few years, a few things stand out. Firstly, most interventions are aimed at prevention. This makes sense, because everyone prefers to avoid sexual violence over having to deal with the consequences. But the proposal of the European commission is aimed squarely at curbing the spread of material containing child sexual abuse. Let’s be clear: that spread is harmful and must be dealt with. But the prevention of abuse should always get priority, especially when so much material is going round, as the European commission would have us believe. This only strengthens the case to focus more on prevention.

Ensuring that victims receive appropriate help, there's NO app for that

Secondly, expert advice rarely centers on deploying technology. Experts never view technology as a magic fix. Nearly always, their proposed measures are much more complex, because the real problem is complex by nature. You cannot fix a patchwork of aid by slapping a digital Band-Aid on it. You must make sure that young victims get fitting help for their situation, which prevents their trauma from getting worse by a bad support system. There’s no app for that. This is different from the proposed blunt legal instrument of snooping on every message by every user of certain services.

We also noticed that expert advice is backed by solid researchStudy shows there's a lot wrong with the substantiation of the proposal of the European Commission. Take the report by the NRM. It pointed out the haphazard way that pupils are commonly taught about sexual development and sexual violence. There are over forty teaching methods, but only sixteen of these have been officially approved. These are explicitly named and described. This is a cut above the sloppy, superficial, one-sided, and sometimes even demonstrably wrong motivations the European Commission can offer in support of its proposal.

Who does the legislator listen to?

We understand perfectly when the legislator says: if not this, then what? We, as an organisation that stands up for digital human rights have only a limited say in the matter. It’s the experts of sexual abuse whom we should listen to. Experts like the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings or the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, who have researched this area thoroughly. It’s experts like the Sexual Assault Center or Victim Support Netherlands who work from the trenches, helping victims of all ages, every day. These people can rightly be termed experts, with a wealth of experience, knowledge, and ideas on how victims are best helped, and new victims can be prevented.

If the European Commission chooses to ignore their recommendations, then who do they listen to?

The translation of the brief overview of expert opinions was translated from Dutch into English by Celeste Vervoort. This is extremely helpful, because in this way, we can also convince policy makers from other countries of the huge gap between the Commission's bill and the experts' opinions. The translation of this article was done by Jasper Sprengers.

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