In May of 2022, members of the British Parliament invited a survivor of Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) to share her support of a newly introduced bill. The Online Safety Bill, aims to make the UK “The safest place in the world to be online.”
Specifically, this legislation requires companies to protect their users, especially children, from encountering harmful content on the internet. This goal will be achieved by preventing children from accessing dangerous content, such as pornography, by prompting users to verify their age before entering the site. Companies will also be required to remove any illegal material from their sites and provide ways for users to report any suspicious content that they find. The law mandates that platforms will detail in their terms and conditions what will and will not be permitted on their site.
Ofcom, the UK’s communication regulator, will implement these stipulations. Businesses who break these policies may face fines up to £18 million. The law will have the biggest effect on social media platforms and search engines, creating a safer environment for users while protecting freedom of expression.
During her speech to the members of parliament, survivor Ruby spoke about the need for the Online Safety Bill. At sixteen, Ruby an online stranger offered her a job, accommodations, and access to education. Instead, Ruby was locked in a house with five other girls. Over 400 miles away from her home, her traffickers forced Ruby to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam.
“I lost my self-esteem and I felt very weak,” said Ruby. “I became so desperate to escape that I would shout whenever I heard a police siren go by, hoping somebody would hear me.”
Alongside IJM, Philippine authorities rescued the girls and sentenced the traffickers to 15 years in prison.
Ruby testified to the horror of OSEC, a crime which is only increasing in prevalence. Many children are abused over streaming platforms and social media sites. Currently, they are few laws to prevent such abuse from occurring as it has proven difficult to regulate livestreaming. This Online Safety Bill will prevent the abuse of children by creating safeguards for users.
Inspired by Ruby’s bravery before Parliament, MP Sarah Champion wrote an article in defense of the bill. “I urge the government to listen to the guidance of survivors and to implement the strongest possible measures to make sure the UK takes the lead in protecting children around the world,” said Champion. “We have a unique opportunity to safeguard vulnerable children and must not let it pass.”
Ruby concluded her speech with a call to action. “I hope you will support this Bill, to use your voice to highlight its importance in tackling the livestreaming of child abuse, and to call for even stronger duties on companies to prevent children from being abused.”
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