In 2020, nearly 22 million reports of child sexual exploitation were made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a figure 30% higher than the previous year.
“With COVID and schools being closed a lot more children were online,” explained Sr. Maryann Agnes Mueller, Justice and Peace Coordinator for Our Lady of Hope Province. “This of course led to a lot more child exploitation online.”
The efforts of the Felician Sisters and many advocacy groups to curtail this alarming trend produced encouraging news when on February 10 the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the EARN IT Act to the Senate. The bipartisan Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2022, co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Lindsey Graham, is a comprehensive child protection bill that includes three components, the most significant being to hold technology companies liable for their role in enabling online child sexual abuse.
Current legislation makes companies like Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit immune to criminal or civil legal action related to third-party content on their platforms. This means victims and their families cannot seek justice against these companies that enable the exploitation and do not act to remove content. The reports made to NCMEC in 2020 included over 65 million images and videos that remain on the internet to traumatize victims throughout their lifetimes.
The bill also calls for the establishment of the National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention to continuously monitor and advance child protection measures, and for the replacement of the term “Child Pornography” with “Child Sexual Abuse Material” to describe the content more accurately.
As spiritual daughters of Blessed Mary Angela speaking for the marginalized, oppressed, and vulnerable in our society, we persist in complementing our prayers with action, and are hopeful that the EARN IT Act will become law.