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Hotlines: Protection of children and women

Hotlines to (a) receive complaints for child abuse and violence against women and leading to investigations or removal of content, or (b) serve as helplines to assist victims, have been available for many years. From the mid-1990s, hotlines began increasingly to address illegal material on the Internet.

Several associations are now in operation in Europe, USA, Canada and other countries that promote good practice, support the development of new hotline initiatives, exchange reports on illegal materials and work together to promote awareness.

The factors that justify the rapid growth of hotlines have been described as follows:

  • The Internet is the “perfect medium” for paedophiles because:
    • it allows people with the same interest to gather online even if they did not previously know each other;
    • it permits several methods for publishing and exchanging images;
    • it facilitates meticulous organization and storing of images;
    • it permits children to be contacted and enticed into an online or offline relationship.
  • The Internet caused also the switch from private exchanges of non-digital images and films to an instant transfer of material in a medium which is easily accessible for everyone.
  • The police in different countries were dealing with the fact that much of the material was originating outside their jurisdiction but widely available within it.
  • There is pressure on politicians to respond to these threats.
  • Internet users are concerned about possible danger to their freedom of expression, thus they are asking for a balanced regulation of the phenomenon and safeguards against unreasonable surveillance.
In this context, hotlines were seen as an appropriate approach because they can be created without changes to legislation, can provide a first answer to public complaints and participate actively in designing procedures to report illegal content.