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Paedophilia. Child helpline: increased sexual solicitation online. Caffo: “Reinforcing prevention measures requires everyone’s commitment”

Reports of child sexual abuse and online grooming are increasing. Half of the victims are under 10 years of age while 62% of perpetrators are family members. The data was released today by the child helpline "Telefono azzurro". President Ernesto Caffo: "Everyone's commitment for child protection is of the essence." A livestreamed debate, an appeal to society and politics, a handbook for parents

Putting the fight against child sexual abuse and paedophilia at the forefront of the political agenda, with prevention and intervention plans; activating the Observatory for the fight against paedophilia and child pornography as soon as possible, with a view to drafting the new National Plan to prevent and combat child sexual abuse and exploitation. These are the requests of the child helpline Telefono Azzurro, on the occasion of the National Day against paedophilia and child pornography, with a request for “adequate funding.”

Today, on the occasion of the National Day Against Child Abuse, the child helpline Telefono azzurro held a livestreamed debate titled “Let’s call things by their name” attended by prominent representatives of institutions, civil society and Church dignitaries. Speakers included the Archbishop of  Ravenna-Cervia Mons Lorenzo Ghizzoni, President of the National Service of the Italian Episcopal Conference for the Protection of Minors, who outlined the commitment of the Italian Church in the fight against child abuse, reported by Sir in a dedicated article. “The commitment of civil society, the academic world and public institutions to protect and safeguard children and adolescents is of the essence”, commented Ernesto Caffo, child psychiatrist, President of Telefono azzurro, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. “Violence and abuse against children and adolescents is a phenomenon as serious as it is complex and largely undetected”, he remarked. He added: “This year’s Day has a special significance: the required lockdown and forced cohabitation have increased the risk of domestic violence against children and adolescents. It is therefore necessary to strengthen prevention and law enforcement measures and to adopt a comprehensive intervention strategy.” Along the same lines, Fr. Hans Zollner, Director of the Centre for Child Protection, said: “We are facing a new stage of protection: we must ensure that the protection of children and vulnerable adults takes priority because the victims are exposed to an even greater risk during the pandemic.”

Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities and Family Elena Bonetti announced: “We are working on a new campaign to raise awareness on the telephone number 114 ( child emergency) as a means for dialogue, to show that there is a community, a State”. For prevention purposes “it is necessary to encourage proper education also at school level”, added the President of the Senate’s Bicameral Commission on Children, Licia Ronzulli, who recalled the ongoing survey on violence against minors, the results of which will be released at the end of the year.

The data released today by the “Sexual abuse and paedophilia” Dossier, regarding the activity of Telefono Azzurro in 2019, are alarming. Over the past year, complaints about offline sexual abuse have increased: 70.5% compared to 67.9% in 2018; online sexual abuse, especially online grooming, has also grown: 9.6% in 2019 compared to 6% in 2018. The study further indicates that

almost half of the victims of abuse are under 10 years old (47% of all victims),

26% are in the 11-14 age group with 27% aged 15-17, while 74% of victims are girls (69% in 2018). As in 2018,

In over half of the cases (62%) the perpetrator is a member of the family.

Data and personal testimonies were collected via the 1.96.96 telephone helpline and the 114 emergency telephone number (chats and social networks) dedicated to children, adolescents and whoever needs to report emergency and risk situations involving children and adolescents. The study also found that in 2019, the 114 Child Emergency helpline handled 142 cases of sexual abuse (with an average of 12 cases per month and 3 per week), representing 5.5% of the total number of cases processed for all reasons (2,567) during the year.

The child helpline Telefono Azzurro highlighted the need for full and increased cooperation between the State and non-profit organisations “for the immediate removal of child abuse material from websites” and the introduction of age verification mechanisms to prevent children from accessing material containing child pornography. Educational programmes and preventive measures including family and adult reference persons are also needed to identify risk factors at an early stage. With regard to the web, the study calls for the implementation of “internationally agreed strategies to ensure safety and protection from all forms of sexual abuse and solicitation, including the use of potentially harmful content” along with “adequate child protection policies” which, inter alia, prioritize “attention to children.”  “Evidence-based pathways for assessing recidivism and treatment” should be put in place for offenders. Finally,

the whole of civil society must be mobilised in the fight against abuse: institutions, organisations, associations, law enforcement agencies, experts as well as children and adolescents.

In order to help parents address the issue with their children, and to support them should difficulties arise, Telefono azzurro has drawn up a dedicated handbook and a glossary.

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