Media Release: “We can all play a role”: Clayton Utz special counsel sees opportunity with ESG agenda to help tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse

03 Aug 2022
Time to read: 1 minutes

The Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) movement is an opportunity for corporations to play a more active role in helping to eliminate child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) – a global humanitarian issue that is more prevalent in Australia than people might think, says Clayton Utz special counsel Mariam Azzo, the international research co-ordinator of the It’s a Penalty CommonProtect research report on CSEA.

The report’s recommendations were the subject of a panel discussion hosted by our firm last week which brought together eight individuals – representing law enforcement, academia, survivor advocacy, legal research and jurisprudence[1] – to provide their perspectives on the need for urgent reform and a co-operative, targeted approach to tackle CSEA.

Our client, UK-based NGO It’s a Penalty, formally launched the CommonProtect report in May this year, which involved a collaborative research effort – led by Mariam – across 21 Commonwealth countries.

Mariam (together with Corporate partner Samy Mansour) led the panel discussion, which covered various aspects of the report’s findings and recommendations. Topics discussed included the prevalence of CSEA in Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific, the steps that can be taken to enhance the investigation, enforcement and prevention of CSEA, and what more governments and other stakeholders can do to help.

Mariam said the global prominence of ESG standards and shifting community expectations had seen companies step up their efforts on a range of measures to do business responsibly – however the focus tended to be more on the ‘E’ and ‘G’ of ESG rather than the ‘S’.

A lot of companies grapple with the ‘S’ aspect of ESG and, in the context of CSEA, many are not sure what they can realistically do to make a difference. But there are absolutely things they can do: for example, helping to provide resources and funding that will support reforms, putting in place systems that can detect money trails that will lead to predators who are creating and / or posting child sexual abuse material on the dark web, deploying technology solutions that will prevent that material being uploaded in the first place, and helping with law enforcement investigations.

She added:

Ultimately the aim of the CommonProtect project is to bring Commonwealth countries together in a shared purpose, to unite and collaborate to address CSEA, which is a truly harrowing issue. We know that we can eradicate CSEA, but we just haven’t tried hard enough yet and so there needs to be the political will, and every country needs to make it a priority with a targeted, consistent and hard-line approach. We can also educate ourselves, talk about the issue and continue to raise awareness. It’s an uncomfortable discussion to have – but we need to keep having it.

[1] The panellists were: The Hon. Michael Kirby (International jurist, educator and former High Court justice), Bernice Lata (Legal Rights Office, Women’s Rights Movement), Elise Gordon (Research Manager, Walk Free), Professor Jennifer Burn (Director, Anti-Slavery Australia), Commander Hilda Sirec (Manager, AFP Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation), Dr Michael Salter (Scientia Associate Professor of Criminology at the UNSW School of Social Sciences), Craig Hughes-Cashmore (CSEA Survivor and CEO and Co-founder of the Survivors & Mates Support Network) and Carol Ronken (Director of Research, Bravehearts)

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