322 – The Intersection of Cyber- Security and Sexual Exploitation, with Ioana Bauer

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Dr. Sandie Morgan is joined by Ioana Bauer as the two discuss the important role that cyber-security plays in preventing sexual exploitation.

Ioana Bauer

Ioana Bauer completed her anti-human trafficking certificate through Vanguard University. She has been a leader in Romania since 2010 in eradicating human trafficking. She has helped pilot survivor engagement projects nationally, internationally through the UN, and through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Ioana Bauer has impacted policy and legislation, leading an initiative in Romania to remove the statute of limitations for the crime of creating online Child Sexual Abuse materials. She’s spearheaded a new award winning protection model compass geared at preventing and identifying trafficking for Ukrainian refugees. Ioana Bauer has been active in the area of protecting human rights and dignity since 2005, and, since 2010, she has dedicated her efforts to addressing human trafficking by leading and shaping prevention activities, developing materials on the issue and conducting capacity building activities. Ioana is an Ashoka Fellow, a 2020 Resilience Fellow with GITOC, and is recognized as one of the women leaders advancing the UN SDGs globally.

Key Points

  • The Ad Hoc Committee’s International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes has faced challenges in reaching a consensus among countries because of the tension between privacy and human rights.
  • It is because online and off-line identities and lives have become increasingly interconnected, that a convention like the Ad Hoc Committee’s is necessary; to look into how this interconnectedness impacts children and vulnerable groups.
  • Survivor voices should be heard and present in spaces like the convention, as they are directly impacted by the issues being discussed, negotiated, and decided on.
  • Takedown mechanisms often re-traumatize survivors, putting them through a lengthy process that does not ensure takedown. 



Sandra Morgan 0:14
Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast here at Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice in Orange County, California. This is episode #322 with Ioana Bauer, The Intersection of Cyber Security and Sexual Exploitation. My name is Dr. Sandie Morgan. This is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Today, we are going to have a conversation about keeping our communities, our families, our children, safe online. Ioana, it’s great to be here, and I’ve been following your work on the Ad Hoc Committee to Elaborate a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies, I have to take a breath, for Criminal Purposes in hopes to reach consensus for a global framework to address cyber dependent criminality. Now this is happening in the space created by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, and it’s especially significant in our spaces where we work with those who have been sexually exploited, particularly in online spaces, sextortion, pornography, all of those aspects. We talk about that right here in Orange County at Vanguard University, and we discuss the issues around sextortion. Even here, we have cases where our local youth have been exploited by traffickers on other continents, in Africa, in the Middle East, in South America, so this is a global issue. I’m really happy to welcome you to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast again, Ioana. Ioana Bauer is chairwoman of eLiberare, and last year’s 2023 Global Center for Women and Justice Amplify award winner because she takes the knowledge and insight she has and amplifies it to bring more understanding, prevention, protection, prosecution in human trafficking. Ioana is from Romania, but has a global footprint. Welcome to the show again, Ioana, let’s just dive right in. When we’re talking about this, can you tell us why a UN convention is strategic in this fight?

Ioana Bauer 3:35

First of all, thank you so much for having me again on this podcast. I think this topic is specifically important, especially now that we don’t just have a digital footprint or a digital life, and then our day to day life, it’s our life period. These two areas are so interconnected that we can’t really say, in a lot of the parts of the world, that there is one without the other, right? Our online identity and our real life identity are very much interconnected, so we need frameworks that actually look into what this means for us. Cyber crime, what are the types, how are we protected? And just like you mentioned, Dr. Morgan, somebody could be a victim in Orange County, but the trafficker, the abuser, the consumer of this criminal material, could be on a totally different continent. That is why it is important to have an international convention, because basically, states need to have a common framework under which they say, “Yes, these are the rules of engagement, and this is how we’re going to deal with XYZ crime.”

Sandra Morgan 4:49
Let’s take a step back, and can you give us a very brief overview of the process for this Ad Hoc Committee?

Ioana Bauer 5:00
Absolutely. Right now, we’re trying to have a second concluding session. You would think that this would be easy, but when you are trying to bring consensus among hundreds of countries, all of a sudden it becomes extremely complicated. Also, it would be important to mention that this is not a new process. The UN has started talking about cyber crime and the need to have common grounds, or common frameworks to address it, since 1990, so it’s about time that we end up with some sort of legislation that can apply more widely than what already exists. However, the Cyber Crime Convention, which used to be named this, before states couldn’t even agree on the name, on the definition of what cyber crime consists, hence we have that handful of a title. It started in a very divergent or a divisive way, with two countries, mainly Russia and the US, in a fight to see who gets there first, which is really funny. It’s not the first time in history when you see this, right? So, trying to figure out how to start this and the framework under which it was gonna be done, with the U S, wanting the scope that is very limited and specifically talks about certain forms of criminality, but then other states, led by Russia, wanting this convention to have the potential to be used, maybe to punish people who fo not have the same opinions as their government, or who are whistleblowers. From the beginning, the convention had a lot of tension between privacy and human rights when it comes to free speech and one’s personal opinion to disagree with the state. Then this piece on protection that is so so important. Fast forward more than than 30 years, we’re getting close to 35 years, hopefully we’ll conclude in 2024, this Ad Hoc Committee that also includes multi stakeholders. So CSOs, tech companies, are coming together trying to put forward the legal framework that would do both: protect human rights and privacy, and citizens right to disagree and hold their own opinion, as well as safeguards that have to do with the protection of children, or vulnerable groups, or individuals in general, because we’ve seen that anybody can be a victim of a cyber crime.

Sandra Morgan 7:47
It seems like, when you’re talking about these states, these countries, they’ve been working on this and been aware of this, but it got stuck. Why? Why did it get stuck?

Ioana Bauer 8:03
That’s a great question, and I think we’re still trying to answer that, even though we’re supposed to close this process. But one, the definition. What kind of crimes do we actually look at? And this is closely related to the scope of the convention. The state agreed that this should only look at cyber dependent crimes. We’re not looking at cyber enabled, we’re not looking at cyber assisted crimes, we’re just looking at cyber dependent, with two big exceptions, child sexual abuse and exploitation material, and the dissemination of intimate images, which in some states would be called sextortion or would have other such names. So these were the two exceptions that states agreed that they need to be in this convention. One, because of the frequency, where we’ve seen such a growth in these cases, in these types of crimes, and then also because of their gravity. So this was easy to include as a need, however, it was really hard, still impossible to this day, to agree how this can be done. There are states that want the broader scope, but usually these are states that would not necessarily act in good faith when it comes to the implementation of such conventions and procedures. There’s issues with international cooperation, specifically looking at extradition, for example, because this would be a topic that would have to be included in this convention. And then there’s there’s competing interests, right? If we look at public international law, a lot of times what one country would consider a moral law, another country would consider a substantive law. So we end up trying to figure out if we’re criminalizing cyber crime, or if we’re criminalizing certain behaviors that one state might consider a crime and another one not.

Sandra Morgan 10:07
When you say state, because I’m thinking of students in my classroom, everybody always loves that I bring it down to our language, and globally, we have different ways of stating things. So when you’re talking about a state, you’re not talking about California, you’re talking about a country’s government, correct?

Ioana Bauer 10:29
I am talking about a country. Thank you for pointing that out.

Sandra Morgan 10:34
Yeah, I just want to keep everybody focused on a global perspective. Okay so, is there an aspect of this that you believe is critical to address in this convention in order to overcome those competing interests? Some of the perspectives, like the example you gave about moral laws and substantive laws, and a lot of that is contextualized in culture and local laws in those countries. How do we overcome those?

Ioana Bauer 11:14
Absolutely, and this is such a difficult question, right? Because in general, international law has to respect the sovereignty of the states, and we need to figure out how we’re not infringing upon national legislation. However, I do think that there are some key aspects that we need to take into account when we discuss specifically protections, when it comes to CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Material), or the dissemination of intimate images. And here, the model in which internet works is pretty much the same, right? We have the internet service providers, we have platforms, and unfortunately, a lot of times, these actors can act with a lot of impunity. We have heard a lot of times how there is no liability for third party content. Therefore, we see all these cases in which, for example, images that were created through the exploitation of others, end up on platforms but then the platform says, “Well, we didn’t know it was there,” or, “It is not our content, it is the user’s content.” Somehow, you have all these actors that are benefiting, they’re monetizing, the exploitation of children, the exploitation of different human beings in different forms, without any type of liability.

Sandra Morgan 12:37
We’re talking. Monetize is such a nice sounding word, but people are profiting from this kind of exploitation.

Ioana Bauer 12:50
Yep, and it’s not just the trafficker, right? And it’s not just those who are directly abusing, it’s also those who are facilitating, sometimes through technological means. Whether they’re getting paid for the hosting, they’re getting paid because of ads that are then being generated, or whatever form, there is some sort of profit that comes from this. And we have very clear rules when it comes to not profiting, and not monetizing, not having any financial gain when it comes to money laundering, for example, or terrorism. But somehow, legislation is lagging in a lot of countries and in a lot of states as well, when it comes to child sexual abuse material, for example. Because this crime is so international, it transcends any type of boundary, it’s important to have provision in this specific convention, but it also has to drill down to every actor that is involved. We also need to talk about the piece on takedown mechanisms. We, I believe, have both worked with survivors who have been exploited physically, but then also that exploitation may have been filmed, and then it is still being used, and it still generates profits for traffickers. Survivors have to relive their exploitation, they’re re-traumatized by this, and also, it’s an ongoing battle in which; what does justice look like when you have to relive your exploitation every time, that you need to go through a very lengthy process, that there’s no guarantee that it will end up in an actual takedown and that it will not be re-uploaded. So somehow, these are key things that we need to take into consideration, and this can be done through this multi-disciplinary approach that this Convention does involve, because of the multi stakeholders that are at the table.

Sandra Morgan 14:59
This has a lot of potential to impact survivors and change their ability to own their own presence on the web.

Ioana Bauer 15:13
It absolutely does. That’s why the the Latin saying, “Nihil de nobis, sine nobis,” “Nothing about us, without us,” should have definitely been way more central to this whole process. But unfortunately, I would say that the survivors voices was one of the most underrepresented voice all throughout the convention, and this is a huge shame. If we look at the incremental growth of child sexual abuse offenses, or material generation offenses, or anything that has to do with the creation of pornographic material, which is one of the forms of human trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, survivors should have been there. They should have actually been heard because they’re directly impacted by this. There were some processes in which organizations such as ours for example, tried to bring the voice of the survivors at the table, but somehow, in 2024 this should already be something that institutionalized, right?

Sandra Morgan 16:20
That’s right.

Ioana Bauer 16:20
We haven’t necessarily seen that.

Sandra Morgan 16:23
The last podcast before this, we talked about having survivor informed processes that are cemented into all of your structures, as deep as HR and hiring it starts, for anybody. I think those are good principles to bring to the table. So survivors have not been really represented at the table, but you keep showing up. Even though progress is slow, why is it important to show up in person? You could just get on a zoom call, like with me.

Ioana Bauer 17:06
Absolutely. Sometimes it’s a matter of actually having the resources, but we believe in prioritizing this, at eLiberare. Also, it is my personal belief that this is a table that we need to be at. Too many times advocacy at the multilateral space ends up being reactive. Somehow we try to correct certain things that come about, meanwhile, this process of negotiation is extremely important, and we don’t wonder about that. For example, when it comes to economic diplomacy or other areas. But why shouldn’t this also be very much the practice when it comes to the the third sector diplomacy piece? CSOs coming together and really being intentional about this process. I think it’s also important, just because there’s a level of accountability that can be brought right? And this process of consultation has been so long, so somehow, we need to make sure that our voices are heard from the beginning, because otherwise it would be very easy for decision makers to say, “Well, where were you?” That’s why, when it comes to this space, it’s important to be at the table, it’s important to participate in the consultation. Submit written contributions, make sure that you’re staying up to date with what the questions are, and somehow, slowly, I believe that we can start creating the agenda for some of these meetings, and not just be passive participants or reactive activists, but very much figuring out where the agenda should go, and how do we make sure that we are prioritizing the topics of protection for victims, better policies in place, and really mainstreaming the issue of combating and preventing human trafficking.

Sandra Morgan 18:57
Do you have a sense of how many civil society organizations, CSOs, are at the table for this consultation?

Ioana Bauer 19:06
I wouldn’t be able to give you an exact number. I must say that there are more civil society organizations. There’s better representation when it comes to human rights or to the privacy piece, so that sector mobilized a bit better when it comes to this. I wish I had seen more child protection organizations and also women’s rights organizations. This is a process that really will impact these two categories to a large extent. So somehow we did not manage to to create the momentum that I wish I had seen.

Sandra Morgan 19:46
What can we do if we’re not going to go to the UN and show up at the table? How do we build momentum?

Ioana Bauer 19:55
This is a great question, and I think there’s incremental steps that we can take, right? And everybody can do something, because ultimately, we need to follow the process, and we need to make sure that this is something that’s on our radar. If this convention becomes law, this is going to have direct impact on our day to day life. So it’s important that we stay in tune and we stay informed. Also, the decision makers are members of permanent missions, which means that they represent sovereign states, countries, and these are people that we can interact with, we can write emails to, we can send position papers. We can tell them that for us, it is important that prioritization is being given to child protection, or to safeguards for everyone, against any type of commercial sexual exploitation that can happen online. We can ask for updated national legislation and safeguards as well, because this is just one step. A lot of times public international law is called soft law. Obviously it’s legally binding, but then the process is cumbersome, but if there is a precedent, that can inform our national legislation, it can inform state legislation. Now I’m talking about the older individual states that can actually adopt their own safeguards. So this is important, because in a way, whatever happens at the top will ultimately impact us at the local level, at the community level, in our day to day lives. We can also get plugged in with organizations that are working on the issue. Continue to get informed. The Ending Human Trafficking Podcast has had several episodes that deal with this specific piece. Whether it’s how do we protect ourselves, ensuring that we’re aware of the threat, ensuring that we know that this is not something that happens far away and it can impact us, but we must be aware and vigilant, not only for ourselves, but also for our neighbors, and figuring out how to do that piece as well. While not everybody might get into the UN building to host the side event, that’s also an option, we all have all these tools where we’re educating ourselves, where we’re applying that knowledge, and where we’re becoming multipliers of the information and the things that we learn in order to also help others.

Sandra Morgan 22:29
You have a lot of passion on this, and I think there are people that want to catch up to speed. In this last few minutes, can you give us some recommended resources, and I’ll put the links in the show notes. So if you’re listening to this and you want to get involved, do you want to understand? You want to know how to contact and what to say to your legislators, where do we start to catch up?

Ioana Bauer 23:06
Absolutely. There are a few resources that I think are very important. One, since we said we need to follow the process, we can add in the Ad Hoc Committee’s web page, and there we will see what happens end of July. Will we have a convention, or not? So that is one of the links that we should definitely include. The other one is a position paper that eLiberare has put together, and in which it consulted survivors, in which it consulted other organizations, academics, so on and so forth. It looks at, how do we prioritize the safeguards that are still needed? How do we light up that crosswalk. We should at least make it harder for predators to reach our children or to find new victims online, so these are some of the key aspects that we discussed in a very practical way, with reference to other international conventions, for example. Then also, one of the other resources that I think is both scary but also extremely important, is the We Protect Global Threat Assessment, this is from 2023. We Protect is a global alliance, eLiberare is one of the civil society organizations that is a part of this, and it looks at the scale and the scope of child sexual exploitation and abuse online. In order to figure out where to start and why this is important, let’s look a little bit at those statistics, because at the current rate, it takes about on average, 19 seconds for a predator to groom a child online.

Sandra Morgan 23:20
Wait, 19 seconds?

Ioana Bauer 24:54

Sandra Morgan 24:55
Okay, got it.

Ioana Bauer 24:58
So this is why it’s important to have these conversations, and it’s important to champion these topics at every level, multilateral, international, national and community level, and even bring those types of conversations at our dinner table, if we are parents or if we are engaged with people whom we love, right?

Sandra Morgan 25:22
That’s right. Last question, Ioana for this podcast, because I’m sure you’ll come back. Have you changed your mind on anything around this issue since you’ve been part of the process?

Ioana Bauer 25:37
I think I’ve changed my mind as to things being purely black or white. There are so many dimensions to this, and unfortunately, the intersectional piece is so incredibly important here, because sometimes we create this division and this fake tension between privacy or safety, and I don’t think that that’s right. I don’t think it should be either or, and a lot of times this division is artificially fueled or created by those who don’t want to make any any type of progress. But ultimately, I think it was super inspiring to see how everybody’s passionate about human rights, and we can all agree that they need to be respected in their entirety, because otherwise they become irrelevant. If we pick or choose, if we make it this a la carte menu, rather than understanding that it’s an all inclusive, then we’re all losing,

Sandra Morgan 26:43
We’re all losing. We all need to be at the table. Ioana Bauer, it is always challenging when you’re on this podcast, because you make me do homework, you make me think through, you really are a motivator, and I’m grateful for your contribution to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. Thanks for being here today.

Ioana Bauer 27:09
Thank you so much Dr Morgan, coming from one of my mentors, that means a lot, and I’m very grateful for how you paved the way for these conversations.

Sandra Morgan 27:18
All right, so if you have never been on the endinghumantrafficking.org website, this is a good time to start, because all of the resources that Ioana mentioned, those links will be in the show notes, along with previous podcast links to Ioana and UNODC. And if you haven’t ever visited the website, you might also want to become a subscriber, and that means you’ll receive an email each time an episode drops. Please be back next episode, two weeks from now, when we’re going to be talking about, how do we keep our kids safe online? We have to do both, and the big picture umbrella for safety. We have to keep our own community safe as well. I’ll see you next time.

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