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Making the ‘circle of trust’ safe for every child

Statement by Rik Daems, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), on the occasion of the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (18 November 2021)

Strasbourg, 18.11.2021 – “Today, on End Child Sex Abuse Day, I call on all parliaments to raise awareness of the dramatic and long-lasting consequences of sexual abuse against children in the 'circle of trust'. For too long, such abuse has been a taboo in our societies. It is high time to shed light on it in order to stop it.

The vast majority of sexual violence against children is committed by someone in the child’s circle of trust, be they relatives, friends, coaches, or other people who should be protecting the child, but who instead betray and abuse that trust.

Abused children must deal with the resulting trauma for the rest of their lives, often without ever telling anyone. Shame, emotional confusion, fear, the desire to keep families together, lack of trust towards other people, or a feeling of powerlessness can be among the reasons for the child’s silence. It is up to us to make sure that speaking up is possible, and is of help, rather than making things worse for the child. It is also up to us to make sure that once the child has taken the courageous step of speaking out, society at large listens to what is said, helps the child to recover and provides support to facilitate their access to the police and the justice system.

Thanks to long-standing international co-operation on this subject, supported by the Council of Europe and its Lanzarote Committee, the Assembly and our partners, such as national parliaments, UN mechanisms and NGOs, we know today that there are solutions that have proven to be effective for preventing such violence and protecting victims when it occurs. I call on all parliaments to make full use of this information to strengthen their countries’ policies and practices on protecting children from sexual abuse.

For our part, the Parliamentary Assembly has produced a short film, Around a Lake, which aims to draw the attention of the public to the issue of child sexual abuse, to encourage the use of helplines and hotlines, and to foster stronger action on the part of public authorities. It is a follow-up to our award-winning film made eight years ago, The Lake, which has been seen millions of times on TV and the web since its creation in 2013. The new film is now available online in eight languages. We hope that it will be used widely across many countries, and will touch many hearts and minds.

To conclude, as of this year, the Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, otherwise known as the Lanzarote Convention, has been ratified by all 47 member States of the Council of Europe, and we can be proud of this major achievement. However, a lot remains to be done to ensure that our countries’ commitments are fully respected, and that protection of children from sexual violence is ensured in practice, with the focus on the best interests of the child. The Parliamentary Assembly is fully committed to supporting this endeavour.”