"It was too ugly," she said Tuesday. "Nobody could believe that it really happened. It was taboo." The wife of King Carl XVI Gustaf said she became involved with the issue after being shocked by a 1993 case in Sweden involving a young man selling child pornography on the internet.
She became the patron of the First World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Stockholm in 1996. That spurred her to become a co-founder of the World Childhood Foundation, which she said has established more than 1,000 projects in 25 countries and reached hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children since it was started in 1999.
Silvia was at the United Nations on Tuesday speaking out about the growth of child sex abuse, exploitation and pornography on the internet — and the failure of many governments and tech companies to stop it.
In a speech and an interview afterward, she pointed to the World Health Organization's estimate that every year 200 million children are sexually abused, and increasingly this either takes place online or is distributed online.
"And, of course, it's very hidden, so the figures are much, much bigger than we think," Silvia said. She mentioned 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who addressed world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly last week and told them: "You have stolen my dreams, and my childhood."
Silvia said the dreams and childhoods of children who are victims of abuse, exploitation and trafficking have also had their dreams and childhoods stolen. "Do we listen to them?" she asked. "Do we dare? How dare we NOT listen to them."
Silvia said it's difficult to comprehend that 50 years after the first landing on the moon "we are still struggling to make progress on ending violence and sexual abuse and exploitation of children." Instead, she said, "we find new challenges, especially misuse of the internet," which in the hands of "evil people" has become an enabler for child abuse and exploitation.
"We all have to work very hard to change the laws, to ensure children's rights," she said, and to get tech companies to take responsibility for what is on their platforms, and makers of computer games that children are playing on the internet to take responsibility for their content.
Silvia said the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls "is extremely important, and it's very good it happened. But I wish that also 25 years ago, that we would have #MeToo for children because nobody wanted to ask, and nobody wanted to see."
She said Tuesday's high-level U.N. meeting on child online safety will be followed by a round-table meeting that she and the king will host in November at the Royal Palace in Stockholm "to explore how we can use artificial intelligence as a catalyst for child safety online, inviting experts from both tech, business and child protection."
The former Silvia Renate Sommerlath, who was born in Germany, met then Swedish Crown Prince Carl Gustav at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich where she was working as a hostess. He succeeded to the throne after his father's death the following year and they were married in Stockholm Cathedral on June 19, 1976.
At a musical performance the night before, the Swedish pop group ABBA performed "Dancing Queen" for the first time in Silvia's honor. It became a global hit. Does she still like the song and still dance to it?
"Yes, of course! Of course!" the queen replied, laughing. "It was a wonderful moment. It really was."