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ACTION INNOCENCE: SAFEGUARDING THE DIGNITY AND INNOCENCE OF CHILDREN ONLINE

ACTION INNOCENCE: SAFEGUARDING THE DIGNITY AND INNOCENCE OF CHILDREN ONLINE

We sat down with Tiziana Bellucci, Managing Director of Action Innocence, for a candid look at where the NGO has come from, where it is headed and what challenges it faces.

What does your organisation currently offer ?

Tiziana Bellucci :  We focus our efforts primarily on pre-empting the risks to which young internet users – a truly digital generation – are exposed. The goal is to teach them how to use online resources safely and responsibly. But while children’s and teenagers’ well-being is important in and of itself, we put equal emphasis on treating others with respect. What sets us apart are our fun-filled, engaging workshops that appeal to youngsters. The stories we tell speak to them at their level, and we are able to win their trust. We encourage participants to share their experiences, whether good or bad, which opens the door for frank discussions about pornography, sexting and online predators. We also touch on the subjects of cyber-bullying, shocking online images and misuse in general.

Since 2010, we have also offered training for psychologists, educators, teachers, paediatricians and other professionals, urging them to address digital concerns in their respective spheres of influence.

How long has Action Innocence been around? Since the dawn of the internet ?

Tiziana Bellucci :  Action Innocence was founded in 1999, soon after the internet became available to the general public, as the brainchild of Valérie Wertheimer, our President. Ms Wertheimer recognised early on that the internet’s vast potential could quickly turn dangerous if children were not properly coached. At first, we poured our efforts into combating sexual abuse online, specifically crimes against children. As the internet evolved – and with it, its users and their online behaviour – we expanded our mission. Today we work actively to safeguard the dignity and innocence of children on the web by training and raising awareness among young users. First there were chat rooms; then came instant messaging followed by blogs, and then social media. We have kept up with developments, continuously adapting our programmes accordingly.

How has Action Innocence’s work changed in the last five to ten years ?

Tiziana Bellucci :  Back in 2000, children generally began using the internet at 10 to 12 years, so we concentrated on this age group. Today we work with three- to five-year-olds as well as adults. Just this past November we launched a new programme to educate parents of young children on how to supervise internet use. Time and again we see parents letting their children use computers without thinking of how this might impact them. But instead of telling parents to ban the internet, we instead urge them to think about screen time in terms of quality, quantity and context: what is my child watching ? How much time are they spending in front of the screen ? Am I, or perhaps a sibling, sharing this time with them ? Have I set out rules and limits ? Always-on devices have become ubiquitous, and we are in a transition phase where parents must begin addressing digital technology as part of their child’s upbringing. Everything we do is geared towards recognising these changes, assessing the risks and offering appropriate preventive strategies.

How are your programmes funded ?

Tiziana Bellucci :  The majority of our resources come from fund-raising auctions, supplemented by private donations. We do not receive any direct support from the government. However, we have partnered with Geneva canton for over ten years. Specifically, we have been granted access to its schools since the 2003-04 academic year, enabling us to offer expertise that had previously been unavailable. Our independence allows us to respond quickly and adapt our preventive efforts to evolving internet usage, new challenges and the changing needs of young cybernauts.

Every year in early December, we throw a party where Christmas trees donated by large firms are sold to raise money for Action Innocence. We also host a gala evening every two years with an auction offering one-of-a-kind and extraordinary items. Finally, an annual Men’s Lunch in October brings together around one hundred gentlemen who are patrons of Action Innocence.

How does Natural Le Coultre tie in ?

Tiziana Bellucci :  In addition to being a long-standing, generous donor, Natural Le Coultre helps us put on events – without which we could not survive. As one of many invaluable, behind-the-scenes contributors, Natural Le Coultre provides logistics services to deliver Christmas trees and the items sold at our auctions. We are grateful to them for supporting our cause through their professional, expert care.

What are the biggest challenges you face today ?

Tiziana Bellucci :  Raising enough money to fund our activities is always a concern. But even more challenging is encouraging parents to make use of our tools and training to raise their children to be ‘web savvy’. Last but not least, it is absolutely vital that Action Innocence stays abreast of the latest internet developments and risks so that we can meet the needs and expectations of our various target audiences.

Action Innocence
is a charity whose mission is to safeguard the dignity and innocence of children online. With the help of 12 staff and 8 professional actors, it holds 35,000 events in Western Switzerland each year for children and teenagers aged between 8 and 15.

 

Action Innocence

Action innocence

Valérie Wertheimer and Tiziana Bellucci, President and Director of Action Innocence