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Protect Children Online
A package of five bipartisan bills has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and are ready for floor action. Together, they revise and update the legal framework used in the prevention and prosecution of online sexual abuse of children. Online platforms have fueled the extreme and unprecedented proliferation of child sexual abuse material. Law enforcement has repeatedly warned that children are groomed, enticed, exploited, trafficked, and abused online through platforms we use every day. There are tens of millions of photos and videos circulating throughout the internet, showing the most heinous acts of sexual abuse and torture of children. This has gotten much worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time for Congress to enact this package of five bipartisan bills to protect children from online child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. 

Urge members of Congress to enact these bills. The EARN IT Act (Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2023, S. 1207) removes immunity for social media and technology companies that knowingly facilitate the distribution of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) on their platforms by giving victims of child sexual abuse the right to sue the companies. The bill also updates existing federal statutes to use the term “child sexual abuse material” instead of “child pornography.” The term child pornography fails to describe the true nature of the images and undermines the seriousness of the abuse. Pornography implies consent, and children under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to the creation or sharing of sexually explicit images of themselves. So, these images are, by definition, evidence of a crime. 

The Kids Online Safety Act (S. 1409) creates a legally relevant “duty of care” requiring online apps and platforms to automatically safeguard the needs of children. The Project Safe Childhood Act (S. 1170) modernizes the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood Program to enhance law enforcement’s response to online child sexual exploitation. The Report Act (Revising Existing Procedures on Reporting via Technology, S. 474) improves the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline by requiring reporting of child sex trafficking and enticement or grooming. It also extends the retention period of reported material, giving law enforcement more time to conduct investigations. The STOP CSAM Act (Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment, S. 1199) expands civil remedies for victims of online sexual exploitation and requires the removal of related exploitive visual depictions. 

In 2022, 31.9 million reports of child sexual abuse material were made to the CyberTipline hosted by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the nation’s clearinghouse and comprehensive reporting center for all issues related to the prevention of and recovery from child victimization. This is an 89 percent increase from pre-pandemic levels. Technology companies have tools including photo DNA technology, but have not been held accountable for their platforms. These bills provide a pathway forward to protecting our children and have bipartisan support. Now it is time for enactment. 

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