Council of Europe ‘one in five’ campaign to prevent child sexual violence in Europe

By Kevin Lalor and Rosaleen McElvaney

Date Posted: Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Kevin Lalor & Rosaleen McElvaney research and teach at the School of Social Sciences and Law, Dublin Institute of Technology  


The ‘One in Five’ campaign

According to John Carr, in 2009 up to 58 million attempts to access child sexual abuse images on the internet were ‘blocked’ by UK internet service providers (ISPs). When Denmark introduced this blocking mechanism, they were able to block over a quarter of a million attempts in the first five months. John Carr, (secretary of the UK Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety) was speaking at the launch of the Council of Europe ‘One in Five’ campaign on 29th-30th November in Rome to Stop Sexual Violence against Children in Europe. The main objectives of the ‘One in Five’ campaign are to encourage more countries to sign and ratify the 2007 Lanzarote Convention (Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse) and to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence of all kinds against children in Europe. Frank Fahey, TD, as vice-president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, spoke at the launch referring to how Ireland has struggled to address child sexual abuse in recent years and the need for openness and transparency in tackling this issue. The launch event was attended by Ministers for Justice, Children, Ombudspersons for Children, Parliamentarians from both national governments and the European Parliament and the Holy See, representatives of Non Governmental Agencies, in the presence of the President of the Republic of Italy Giorgio Napolitano. Italy has taken a leading role in launching the campaign, co-ordinated by their Department of Equal Opportunities. A key strand of the campaign is a children’s story ‘the underwear rule’ targeted at children aged 3-7 years and a DVD of this story which will be shown on TV advertisements and cinemas all over the country. The children’s book will be available (free) in bookshops throughout Italy.  Campaign materials for parents include a guide to using the storybook, available on Another initiative presented at the launch is that of a web portal whereby children, parents, and professionals can all access information and training resources online to equip them in dealing with the issue of sexual violence. This portal is due to be online by July 2011. The Council of Europe encourages each member state to co-ordinate similar campaigns in each member state. The campaign itself is one of many measures initiated by the Council of Europe to implement the Lanzarote Convention. The campaign aims to put child sexual abuse on the political and social agenda throughout Europe, and to provide the tools for parents and guardians to communicate in an age appropriate way with children.


The Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (The Lanzarote Convention)

The purpose of this Convention is to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, protect the rights of child victims and promote national and international co-operation in dealing with these issues. The Convention builds on the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and will shape and guide member states’ responses to the issue of child sexual abuse. The Convention has identified shortcomings in national legislation, such as the need for an offence that relates to accessing child abuse images (as opposed to the downloading of such images) and the need for an offence of ‘grooming’ whereby adults develop an online relationship with young people that later leads to sexually abusive interactions. As of December 2010, 42 of the 47 Member States have signed the Convention, which entered into force on 1st July 2010.  It has been ratified in ten countries (Albania, Denmark, France, Greece, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, San Marino, Serbia, Spain).[1] The Convention was signed by Ireland in October 2007 and by the UK in May 2008, but not yet ratified.  The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has decided to play an active part in the Council of Europe Campaign to Stop Sexual Violence against Children, aimed at promoting the signature, ratification and implementation of the “Lanzarote Convention”.  A network of contact parliamentarians is currently being set up to facilitate and link up with action at national level. It will meet for the first time in late January 2011.  Also, a “handbook for parliamentarians is being prepared as a practical tool for communicating and implementing the Lanzarote Convention at national level. The handbook will highlight the issues which are expected to be covered by national legislation and best practice in Council of Europe member states.”[2] Ms. Marta Santos Pais, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children described the Lanzarote Convention as the most advanced child protection standards in the world.


Draft directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on combating sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, repealing Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA 

This proposed new legislation is currently being discussed both in the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament and can be seen as a development of the Lanzarote Convention.  For example, it would criminalise forms of abuse currently not covered by EU legislation, “with Articles 3 and 4 aiming at punishing the intentional conduct of recruiting or coercing a child into prostitution or into pornographic performances or profiting from or otherwise exploiting a child for such purposes”.[3]  Viewing child abusive material (CAM) without downloading the files would become illegal. Also, rules on jurisdiction would be amended to ensure that child sexual abusers or exploiters from the EU face prosecution including if they commit their crimes in a non-EU country. National mechanisms to block access to websites with child pornography, which are most often located outside the EU, would be established.  Article 21 is concerned with “Blocking access to websites containing child pornography” and is the object of major controversy in the European Parliament currently.  Article 21 states:  “Where the removal of webpages containing or disseminating child  pornography is not possible, Member States shall take the necessary measures,  whether legislative or non-legislative, to ensure that the blocking of access to  webpages containing or disseminating child pornography is possible towards  the Internet users in their territory.”[4] On 3rd December this text was agreed by EU Member states at a meeting of the Council of Ministers.  ‘Blocking’ involves Internet Service Providers (ISP) using technical measures to deny users access to particular websites, or even individual pages on a website.  Arguments that this may amount to censorship or may be used by Member States to limit freedom of expression are spurious.  Sophisticated technical measures are available to ensure that only illegal, offensive material is blocked.  Also, blocking can and should be open to judicial review. To date, blocking is carried out in only seven of the 27 EU member states but Italy currently stands alone as having made it a legal requirement. Elsewhere it has been taken up by ISPs on a voluntary basis, which is great but legislation would represent a significant endorsement and strengthening of the policy. The current debate in Europe is whether member states will vote to make this mandatory for member states or whether member states will accede to lobbying by the ‘free speech’ lobby that claims that empowering governments in this way could be dangerous. A recent RTÉ [Irish national broadcaster]  Prime Time programme (May, 2010) showed how sophisticated software used by an American technology company, TLO, was able to detect approximately 1,000  individuals in Ireland in a 30 day period, exchanging or downloading images of children being sexually abused (Carr, in press),  thus ‘feeding’ this industry and committing sexual offences as they surf. Blocking access to websites containing child abuse images is a vital part of the campaign against the production and distribution of child abuse images online.  In 2009 in the UK, BT announced that they had estimated that their blocking solution was preventing up to 40,000 attempts per day on their network to access web sites known to contain child abuse web images.  It is vital that Article 21 should be as strong as possible, for blocking to be mandatory, and not discretionary. Now that the draft has cleared the Council of Ministers the last hurdle will be the Parliament where it is by no means certain that it will pass thanks to an ill-informed but headline grabbing campaign mounted by its opponents. One argument they use is that if blocking child pornographic images becomes compulsory Governments will soon want to start using the same methods to block movie piracy sites or, in some countries, gambling sites. Abused children are not bargaining chips. There is no deal to be struck, nor moral equivalence, between Ladbrokes, Hollywood and young victims of sexual violence. You must judge each argument on its merits. Either you think it is right to protect the privacy of abused children or you do not.


Prevalence of sexual violence against children in Europe

In a review of the prevalence literature, Lalor and McElvaney (in press) described the extent of child sexual abuse in Europe as a public health concern needing immediate attention both nationally within European states and internationally across Europe. They found prevalence rates for penetrative child sexual abuse to be higher for girls than for boys. For females, rates for penetrative abuse ranged from 2.9% to 10.5% (Sweden); 3% (UK); 4.9% (Turkey); 5.6% (Ireland); 7.8% (Greenland). For males, rates for penetrative abuse ranged from 0.6% and 5.5% (Sweden); 1% (UK); 2.7% (Ireland); and 3.2% (Greenland). When broader definitions of contact sexual abuse were used, prevalence rates for females ranged from 10% (UK); 11.3% (Turkey); 13.9% (Sweden); 15.8% (Denmark); 19% (Spain); 20.4% (Ireland); 39.8% (Switzerland). For males the following rates for broader forms of child sexual abuse were reported: 6% (UK); 6.7% (Denmark); 15.2% (Sweden); 15.5% (Spain); 16.2% (Ireland). Lalor and McElvaney’s review was part of a  publication by the Council of Europe, ‘Protecting children from sexual violence’, due out this month to launch the Council of Europe ‘1 in 5” campaign. Apart from an overview of the nature and extent of child sexual abuse, the book includes an outline of the United Nations legislative framework for dealing with sexual abuse and exploitation and the Council of Europe conventions and European Union policy, prevention policies and practices that emphasise children’s participation, advice on the training of professionals and multidisciplinary working relationships, child helplines as interventions, child sexual abuse and disability, rehabilitative approaches to working with child and adolescent sexual abusers, the internet dimension of sexual violence against children and engaging public and private partnerships to eliminate sexual violence against children.


Children’s Houses

One model of practice discussed at the launch was that of ‘children’s houses’ or ‘child advocacy centres’ whereby all institutions dealing with the child in the process of addressing sexual abuse are housed under the one roof. Such a model minimises the need for repetitive interviewing of children as is often currently the case as children are often interviewed by child protection professionals to establish child protection and therapeutic needs and also by law enforcement personnel in order to take a formal statement for evidence gathering purposes. These centres might house Social Workers, Psychologists, Psychotherapists, Child Psychiatrists, Police and Solicitors who work together in a multidisciplinary team with the needs of the child held centre stage. Such a model promotes interagency working and good communication. In the U.S. advocates of this model emphasise the increased prosecution rates that result from such collaborative work between the various professionals involved in dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse. This model gives equitable consideration to the issue as a child protection concern both for the individual child concerned and for other children; to the needs of perpetrators who need psychological intervention both for their own mental health and for the protection of children; and to the responsibility on the state to gather evidence from victims and prosecute offenders of such offences.



The Council of Europe is actively engaged in leading the way for member states by developing guidelines for various children’s issues such as their 2005 publication on the rights of children living in institutions and their 2010 child friendly justice guidelines.  One of the themes of the launch event was the lack of consistent data on the issue of prevalence of child sexual abuse in Europe. The Lanzarote Convention requires member states to collect data on which to base our interventions – in Ireland we have the excellent SAVI study (McGee et al., 2002) but this is eight years old now and we have no information on prevalence of sexual abuse in children in care, with disabilities or trafficked children. In the UK the NSPCC has just published a prevalence study which updates their 2000 study (Radford et al., 2010). To conclude, the questions that need to be asked are: what role is Ireland and the UK playing in the fight against child sexual abuse? Are we going to ratify the Convention?  Are we going to vote for the draft EU traffic directive to make blocking of child sexual abuse images on the internet mandatory? Are we going to roll out an awareness raising campaign as is happening in Italy? And will we commit to, and fund, methodical regular data gathering to ensure up to date prevalence information?









Carr, J. (in press).  ‘The Internet dimension of sexual violence against children’  In Protecting children against sexual violence (pp. 271-299).  Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

Lalor, K. & McElvaney, R. (in press).  ‘Overview of the nature and extent of child sexual abuse in Europe’.  in Protecting children against sexual violence (pp. 13-43).  Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

Radford, L., Corral, S., Bradley, C., Fisher, H., Howat, N., Bassett, C. with Collishaw, S. (2010). The prevalence of child maltreatment and victimisation in the UK. London: NSPCC.



We are grateful to John Carr, OBE, for comments on a draft of this article.


goodenoughcaring Journal  editor’s note 

Other articles relating to issues raised in this piece include Two book Reviews : Kathy’s Real Story by Hermann Kelly and The Secret of Bryn Estyn by Richard Webster  This review is written by Mark Smith and can be found at

The Marginalisation of Child Protection : the importance of keeping the protection and respect for our children at the core of our relationships in care, education and health settings.  This article is written by Charles Sharpe and can be found at