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Novel Strategies to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking Crimes and Protect their Victims

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HEROES (Novel Strategies to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking Crimes and Protect their Victims)

Reporting period: 2021-12-01 to 2022-11-30

Trafficking of human beings (THB) and child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSA/CSE) are two big problems in our society. Inadvertently, new information and communication technologies (ICTs) have provided a space for these problems to develop and take new forms, made worse by the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, technical and legal tools available to stakeholders that prevent, investigate, and assist victims – such as law enforcement agencies (LEAs), prosecutors, judges, and civil society organisations (CSOs) – fail to keep up with the pace at which criminals use new technologies to continue their abhorrent acts. Furthermore, assistance to victims of THB and CSA/CSE is often limited by the lack of coordination among these stakeholders. In this sense, there is a clear and vital need for joint work methodologies and the development of new strategies for approaching and assisting victims. In addition, due to the cross border nature of these crimes, harmonisation of legal frameworks from each of the affected countries is necessary for creating bridges of communication and coordination among all those stakeholders to help victims and reduce the occurrence of these horrendous crimes. To address these challenges, the HEROES project comes up with an ambitious, interdisciplinary, international, and victim-centred approach. The HEROES project is structured as a comprehensive solution that encompasses three main components: Prevention, Investigation and Victim Assistance. Through these components, our solution aims to establish a coordinated
contribution with LEAs by developing an appropriate, victim-centred approach that is capable of addressing specific needs and providing protection.

The HEROES project’s main objective is to use technology to improve the way in which help and support can be provided to victims of THB and CSA/CSE. Moreover, the HEROES project will establish new innovative strategies that in the short, medium and long term will improve the way in which LEAs and CSOs carry out criminal investigations, assist rescued victims, and prevent the occurrence of these crimes.
The main results of the first reporting period are:

- Functional and non-functional requirements for the HEROES toolkit were defined. The consortium carried out desk research and literature analysis combined with focused contribution from the consortium partners and multi-stakeholder to obtain a knowledge-based approach with the intent to combine knowledge generation with awareness raising/information-sharing among the consortium partners and multi-stakeholder, thus facilitating a mutual understanding of the THB and CSA/CSE crimes, the real priorities and the specific user requirements. The consortium was also able to identify comprehensive collection of good practices, current practices and gaps, in methods used for protection, investigation and victim assistance of cases of THB and CSA/CSE, and the needs that various professional categories have towards their successful training with regards to issues of THB, CSA/CSE.

- Examination of the main ethical, legal and societal issues relevant to HEROES tools, establishment of a set of principles and ethical requirements to be combined with the functional requirements, engagement with technical partners: monitoring the design and development of the HEROES tools. Ethical, legal and privacy support, Workshop of sensitisation of the consortium to privacy, ethical, societal issues and AI, research on the current legal framework around e-evidence and the proposed e-evidence legislative package and possible constraints with data protection. Engagement with law enforcement partners within the consortium to understand the difficulties faces when requesting and obtaining e-evidence from countries outside their jurisdiction and within the EU. Provide privacy by design and ethics by design support for data gathering, information exchange, and the development, training and testing of the tools. - Scanning the horizon for ethical issues that could arise in relation to digital forensics, by reviewing items in ethics and technology journals, social media, articles in the professional press, the proceedings of digital forensics and technology ethics conferences, the news media, and other sources.

- Consortium partner is working on three technical tools to prevent and report CSA/E and THB, raise awareness on the issue, and develop training programs to strengthen stakeholders on prevention and detection. Particularly, focusing on prevention, the Guide to help adults talk with children about online crimes, and the Red Heart Campaign has launched in Bangladesh. In addition, the outline of the training on Recognising, Intervening, and Preventing Trafficking in Human Beings on a Local, National and Global Scale, has been designed.
HEROES impact is analysed through the three pillars proposed to combat THB, and CSA/CSE: prevention, investigation and victim assistance. The project expects to makes a meaningful impact by generating outcomes in several areas. In terms of technology, HEROES will deliver tools for Automatic identification & classification of CSAM/CSEM, a mobile Anti-Grooming app detecting potential grooming attempts, OSINT tools to identify and trace CSAM/CSEM in the dark web, AI models that identify fake jobs offers and a file context analysis tool for seized devices. The project is exploring legal challenges related to some special investigative methods that could be used by LEA’s when fighting CSA/CSE & THB. Furthermore, we expect to deliver some suggestions for the harmonization of the related legal frameworks, not only in the EU but, considering that these type of crimes are global, we will do it also for Third Countries. HEROES will deliver a study on the psychological, social and economical factors that may derive into these type of crimes. The project is developing an integral prevention program aimed at educating potential victims. We’re developing prevention educational campaigns. HEROES partners are analysing the treatment barriers for THB & CSA/CSE victims proposing guidelines to avoid re-victimization of victims during the investigation and in Court. Finally, HEROES will explore procedures that facilitates information exchange and promotes collaboration among the relevant stakeholders.