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European Research Executive Agency
News article6 February 2024European Research Executive Agency3 min read

Creating a safer space for children online

How can research help protect our children online? Horizon Europe projects are developing innovative tools to create a safer space for children and youth online and lead transformational change!

© European Union, 2023; Image source: Lerbank-bbk22, Canva

As offenders increasingly use the Internet to connect with minors and share child sexual abuse material, Horizon Europe projects working in the area of fighting crime and terrorism are developing innovative tools and ideas to better combat and prevent this horrific crime.

February 6 is EU Safer Internet Day, an opportunity to promote online safety for children and youth.

The pervasive use of digital technology has made child sexual abuse a crime on the rise. Around the world, 1 in 5 children are sexually abused before turning eighteen. In the EU, the number of reports of online of child sexual abuse increased from 23,000 in 2010 to a staggering 1.5 million in 2022, reported the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

EU-funded research can make a difference by creating innovative tools to help prevent child sexual exploitation from happening in the first place, facilitate effective and timely responses to such crimes, and lead transformational change. Learn how Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe security research projects funded in the area of fighting crime and terrorism can help protect children online.

Machine learning tools and techniques to fight child sexual exploitation

With the rapid increase in the distribution of child sexual abuse material online, the number of referrals is also rising. However, due to limited human resources and capabilities, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) may be unable to respond in a timely manner and rescue children in immediate danger. Addressing the technological, ethical, and legal problems specific to combatting child sexual exploitation, the  GRACE project employs proven machine learning methods to the referral and analysis phase. The project has successfully tested pilot tools of semi-automated content analysis and a prioritisation system. Its final stages are focusing on refinements and increasing the scalability of GRACE to help protect victims and catch criminals.

Read more about the GRACE project

Preventing abuse before it occurs

The Prevent and Protect Through Support (2PS) project aims to increase access to therapy, support services, and raise awareness of the value of taking preemptive measures to prevent harm to children before it occurs. The project aims at helping understand the causes of harmful behavior, and to enhance prevention of child sexual abuse by sharing best practices for guidance, therapy and treatment methods available for offenders, including for those who fear they may offend. To this end, 2PS is working on creating training materials for relevant stakeholders to exchange knowledge and develop communication campaigns that encourage discussion on the crucial role prevention plays in tackling child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Read more about the on 2PS project

Empowering young people to unmask online threats by playing

RAYUELA tackles the prevention of cyberbullying, deception and the ever-rising threat of “online grooming”, a practice where child sexual abuse offenders build a relationship of trust and emotional connection with children in order to manipulate, sexually exploit and abuse them. The primary objective of the project is to empower and educate young people on the advantages, risks and threats linked to the use of the internet. For this purpose, RAYUELA developed educational material, videos and a video game, allowing users to interactively immerse themselves in situations that replicate cybercriminal behaviour and learn more about online threats in an entertaining way. The project brings together experts in the fields of law, computer science, engineering, sociology, psychology and anthropology to develop multidisciplinary ways of understanding the new factors affecting online behaviour.

More on RAYUELA project

Horizon Europe Cluster 3 - Civil Security for Society responds to the challenges arising from persistent security threats, as well as natural and man-made disasters. To reach this goal, the European Commission funds research and innovation projects on fight against crime and terrorism, including cybercrime, as well as crisis management, external and border security, cybersecurity, privacy and trust.

Find out more about the Horizon Europe Civil Security for society projects and funding opportunities.


Publication date
6 February 2024
European Research Executive Agency