UK leads the way in improving online safety
As part of the Online Harms White Paper, a joint proposal from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Home Office, a new statutory duty of care will be introduced to make companies take more responsibility for the safety of users online. Compliance will be overseen by an independent regulator which will enforce stringent new standards.
Under the new standards, social media firms must abide by a mandatory duty of care to protect users and will face tough penalties, including heavy fines, if they fail to protect them and tackle illegal and harmful activity on their services.
The regulator is to have effective enforcement tools. Government departments are consulting on the regulator’s powers which may include issuing substantial fines, blocking access to sites and potentially to impose liability on individual members of senior management.
In a statement Prime Minister Theresa May said “The internet can be brilliant at connecting people across the world – but for too long these companies have not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people, from harmful content. That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently. We have listened to campaigners and parents, and are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe.”
The range of harms to be tackled as part of the Online Harms White Paper, include inciting violence and violent content, encouraging suicide, disinformation, cyber bullying and children accessing inappropriate material. There will also be stringent requirements for companies to take even tougher action to ensure they tackle terrorist and child sexual exploitation and abuse content.
The new proposed laws will apply to any company that allows users to share or discover user generated content or interact with each other online. This means a wide range of companies of all sizes are in scope, including social media platforms, file hosting sites, public discussion forums, messaging services, and search engines.
The introduction of the statutory duty will end the era of self regulation. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said “The tech giants and social media companies have a moral duty to protect the young people they profit from. Despite our repeated calls to action, harmful and illegal content – including child abuse and terrorism – is still too readily available online. That is why we are forcing these firms to clean up their act once and for all.”
A regulator will be appointed to enforce the new framework. The Government is now consulting on whether the regulator should be a new or existing body. The regulator will be funded by industry in the medium term, and the Government is exploring options such as an industry levy to put it on a sustainable footing.
A 12 week consultation on the proposals is underway which includes:
- A new statutory ‘duty of care’ to make companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services.
- Further stringent requirements on tech companies to ensure child abuse and terrorist content is not disseminated online. Giving a regulator the power to force social media platforms and others to publish annual transparency reports on the amount of harmful content on their platforms and what they are doing to address this.
- Making companies respond to users’ complaints, and act to address them quickly.
- Codes of practice, issued by the regulator, which could include measures such as requirements to minimise the spread of misleading and harmful disinformation with dedicated fact checkers, particularly during election periods.
- A new “Safety by Design” framework to help companies incorporate online safety features in new apps and platforms from the start.
- A media literacy strategy to equip people with the knowledge to recognise and deal with a range of deceptive and malicious behaviours online, including catfishing, grooming and extremism.
Alongside the White Paper, an updated version of the Digital Charter has also been published. The Digital Charter aims to protect citizens, increase public trust in new technologies and create the best possible basis on which the digital economy and society can thrive.
New YouGov research, carried out for Ofsted, titled Off-rolling: exploring the issue reveals that a quarter of teachers have seen off-rolling taking place in their schools. The research also found that teachers felt parents need help to resist off-rolling pressure.
Men forced into marriage reaches seven-year high
New figures released by the UK Forced Marriage Unit reveal an increase in the number of men being forced into marriage. Overall the number of forced marriage cases rose by 47% in 2018 compared to the previous year, with 297 (the highest number reported in seven years) male victims. The unit statistics reveal they dealt with 1,764 cases in 2018.
These latest figures show that forced marriages, more commonly associated with vulnerable young women, is a significant problem for young British males too. Whilst most cases in 2018 involved a UK citizen being taken to a foreign country or marrying a foreign national, the statistics show that 7% of the latest cases were entirely domestic based.
The majority of forced marriage cases in the UK come from a South Asian background however, the new statistics show an increase of people from a Romanian background reporting the crime.
Whilst these latest statistics indicate a worrying increase the disturbing reality is that, due to the nature of this often unreported abuse, actual figures are likely to be higher.
Nearly 30 years after he was first accused and cleared of sexual abuse, Bob Higgins, former youth coach at Southampton Football Club, has been convicted of 45 counts of indecent assault.
As a consequence of scores of former players coming forward in 2016, the crimes of 66-year-old serial sex offender Higgins have finally caught up with him. A total of 87 people called the charity NSPCC dedicated phone line and and a further 32 contacted police directly with allegations relating to Southampton, all associating Higgins to the abuse.
Whilst being known as the “star maker” who was instrumental in the career development of high profile football players such as Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer, Higgins was also a ruthless, predatory paedophile, who used his position of power to groom and then abuse boys whose dreams of a playing career he could make or break.
The eight-week retrial, held after a previous jury at Winchester Crown Court could not reach verdicts on 48 counts of indecent assault, was told Higgins kept an open house at his homes in Camberley, Surrey, and later Southampton where he would let boys stay while they attended training sessions at weekends or during school holidays.
This allowed him to groom his victims. Sitting on the sofa at his home, he would demand cuddles from the boys and go on to touch them inappropriately. He would also use the pretext of treating injuries or performing soap-water massages to abuse youngsters at the club. Many youth players who were sexually assaulted by Higgins were left so distressed that they gave up football entirely.
Rumours about Higgins’s activities had circulated for years however, there was an implicit trade-off as boys knew they needed to keep quiet or risk losing their shot at a career as a footballer. Many said nothing, even to close family members, for up to 30 years.
Le Tissier told the BBC in 2016 he had been given a “naked massage” by Higgins. In the interview, Le Tissier said he was not abused but the incident was “very, very wrong”.
After more than a week of deliberation, the jury found Higgins guilty of dozens of offences. In a statement, Southampton FC said it noted the verdicts “with deep regret” and offered “sympathy and support to any player who suffered any kind of abuse or harm while under our care”.
Higgins is the latest in a string of high-profile prosecutions of former football coaches which include:
Barry Bennell, 64, being jailed in February 2018 for 30 years for sexual offences against junior players at Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra
George Ormond, 62, who worked for Newcastle United’s youth team who was given a 20-year prison sentence at Newcastle Crown Court in July 2018 for sex abuse offences spanning 25 years
Former Celtic youth coach James McCafferty, 77, of Lisburn, Northern Ireland who was jailed for six years and nine months at the High Court in Edinburgh on May 14 for 11 charges against 10 victims.
Michael ‘Kit’ Carson, who worked at Norwich City, Peterborough United and Cambridge United, who died in a car crash on the first day of his trial at Peterborough Crown Court where he denied 13 charges.
Higgins was remanded in custody to be sentenced on a date to be set at Winchester Crown Court.
Work needed to tackle sexual harassment in public places
Sexual harassment is to be addressed within the cross-HM Government Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy. This is in response to a report, following an inquiry, on sexual harassment of women and girls in public places from the Women and Equalities Committee.
The committee Chair Maria Miller, MP Basingstoke, revealed they had “heard from a large number of women, from the police and other agencies as well as researchers, who told us that sexual harassment in public places pervades the lives of women and girls, whether it is cat-calling in the street, upskirting on public transport, misogynistic abuse online or sexual assault in pubs and clubs or at university”.
HM Government has responded positively to the report recommendations which makes a series of practical recommendations on issues such as data collection, women’s safety on public transport, and media regulation. The report also highlights that, although HM Government has recognised the racialised sexual harassment of black and ethnic minority women and girls, and of the ways in which sexual harassment intersects with other inequalities as an issue, a comprehensive programme of work in place for preventing and addressing the problem is not in place.
In response to the Committee’s findings, HM Government has fully accepted the report recommendations on:
- data collection;
- schools taking action in advance of statutory guidance coming into force in 2020;
- research on underlying factors contributing to sexual harassment;
- a review of hate crime, online spaces as a site for sexual harassment and the need for a gendered approach to online harm.
Also accepted in principle or partially are the Committee’s recommendations on:
- the Ending VAWG strategy;
- research on pornography;
- the need for long term evaluated campaigns;
- requiring public transport operators to have sexual harassment policies;
- action to prohibit pornography displayed on public transport;
- action to tackle sexual harassment to be embedded in alcohol strategy;
- action by local authorities.
However, HM Government did not accept the Committee’s recommendations for:
- social media to be included in the age of verification of pornographic website provision;
- a law on image based sexual abuse;
- evaluation of the Purple Flag scheme;
- amendment to the Licensing Act;
- action on sexual entertainment venues;
- requiring universities to take action on student safety.
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