Disrupting Harm

In early 2019, the End Violence Partnership invested $7 million to develop Disrupting Harm, a holistic and innovative research project that aims to better understand how digital technology facilitates the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

The Partnership brought together and funded three global organisations – ECPAT International, INTERPOL and the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti – to undertake new research in 13 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. This type of high-quality research and assessment is new and unique in that it uses a multi-sector approach and the specific expertise of these three global agencies and their local partners. 

We have launched our first country report – Uganda – click here to read the report and explore more information under the Country Reports tab below. 

Uganda

For more than two decades, we have used the internet to connect with family and friends worldwide. Internet usage was already increasing year-over-year, and the tools we use to connect have been rapidly evolving – but then we were hit by COVID-19, which has further accelerated the shift online of many aspects of our lives.  

Being online is often a very positive experience for children, providing them opportunities to learn and socialise. But it can also increase the risk of exposure to negative experiences, including online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

However, despite the understanding that children’s experiences are frequently mediated by digital technologies, – there is a lack of evidence to quantify these risks and identify which children are more likely to be harmed. This makes it difficult to prevent and disrupt situations of abuse and exploitation. There is an urgent need to build a more comprehensive understanding of the threats of online child sexual exploitation and abuse at national and regional levels.

Disrupting Harm was created to respond to this need. To prevent and respond to online child sexual exploitation and abuse, we must base our solutions on the latest data and evidence. 

Disrupting harm to children is the responsibility of every adult, including caregivers, law enforcement and justice professionals, governments and technology companies operating the platforms children are using.

Leveraging the unique and comprehensive evidence gathered, Disrupting Harm identifies practical and actionable solutions to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation both online and offline.  The project was implemented in 13 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda) and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam).

Researchers have conducted national assessments based on nine distinct research activities in each country. Data were collected from government actors, law enforcement, children and their caregivers, and survivors of exploitation and abuse – all to create a fuller understanding of the threat of online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

COUNTRY CONTEXT

  • Desk-based research on existing laws and policies to provide better contextual insights in each country.
  • Nationally representative survey with (internet-using) children aged 12-17 and one of their caregivers in each of the 13 countries to understand more about children’s online activities, skills, and engagement in risky online behaviors.

UNDERSTANDING THE THREAT OF ONLINE CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION & ABUSE

  • Nationally representative survey with (internet-using) children aged 12-17 and one of their caregivers in each of the 13 countries to understand more about children’s online experiences, in particular experiences and predictors of online violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse. 
  • Data from law enforcement agencies, specialized units and partner organisations to measure the scope and nature of the problem. Interviews with national law enforcement and justice actors to better understand the context, risk, and potential challenges they face in addressing the threat of online child sexual exploitation and abuse. 
  • Surveys of frontline service providers and welfare staff to gain insights in each country.  

NATIONAL RESPONSE TO THE THREAT

  • Interviews with national duty-bearers to gain a deep understanding of legal and policy environment. 
  • Surveys of frontline service providers and welfare staff to gain insights in each country. 
  • Interviews with victims, their caregivers, and representatives from the justice sector to determine how the justice systems is supporting children.  
  • Survivor-centred conversations with young survivors to ensure their perspectives are understood and well incorporated.  
  • Statistics and other information from helpline and hotline operators and the industry. 

Disrupting Harm’s methodology can be adapted to any country or region. It will enable cross-country comparisons and collaboration to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse. Wherever possible, all Disrupting Harm research was conducted in each country to allow for regional analysis later this year.

To ensure cutting edge results from the research endeavour, advice was sought from global experts on the Disrupting Harm findings and recommendations. A list of the members of the Panel of Advisors can be found here.

Leveraging the unique and comprehensive evidence gathered, Disrupting Harm identifies practical and actionable solutions to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation both online and offline. The project was implemented in 13 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa. Below are reports that are now available: Kenya and Uganda

ugandfa_2 Disrupting Harm Uganda report and advocacy brief

Disrupting Harm in Uganda is the second in a series of reports which shared the findings of children’s perceptions of and participation in various online practices, as well as their experiences of online child sexual exploitation in Uganda. Read the full report here.

Disrupting Harm in Uganda has highlighted a number of key areas when dealing with online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA):

  • Disrupting Harm in Uganda found that boys & girls were equally likely to experience online sexual exploitation and abuse. Yet 98% of reports were made by girls. This is very concerning, as it may indicate boys are not reporting incidents.
  • OCSEA mostly occurs on social media. 10% of the surveyed children were offered money or gifts for sexual images or videos of themselves in the past year.
  • 9% of children surveyed reported having sexual images of themselves shared with others without their consent.
  • Many children did not report any incident of OCSEA to anyone. They expressed not knowing who to report to or where to seek help.
  • Child advocate professionals said victim blaming by the police sometimes deterred children from reporting. The common reason for not reporting OCSEA was "not thinking anything would change".
  • Law enforcement, the justice system, and social services lack awareness, capacity, and resources to respond to cases of OCSEA.
  • The interviewed children were not able to bring their case to justice through the court system. Some important OCSEA-related legislation, policies and standards are not yet enacted in Uganda.
  • Internet-using children in Uganda are subjected to OCSEA. Most offenders of OCSEA are someone the child already knows. OCSEA can happen while children spend time online or in person but involving technology.

Data collection took place from early 2020 through to early 2021 with the cooperation of the Government of Uganda and a wide range of public bodies and other organisations active in the country.

To ensure cutting-edge results from this research endeavour, advice was sought from global experts on the Disrupting Harm in Uganda findings and recommendations. A list of the members of the Panel of Advisors can be found here.

Leveraging the unique and comprehensive evidence gathered, Disrupting Harm in Uganda identifies to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, both online and offline in Uganda.

The analysis for Disrupting Harm in Uganda was finalised in May 2021. The recommendations were discussed further at a national consultation on 19 August 2021.

ECPAT International – carried out 12 semi-structured interviews with duty bearers (method & report); a survey consisting of a sample of 50 client-facing frontline workers in Kenya (method & report); ten interviews were conducted between June and August 2020 with children and their caregivers aged between 15 and 18 who had previously accessed the legal system for OCSEA cases (method & report); Interviews with 11 justice professionals; a literature review, which included legislation, policy and systems which address OCSEA in Kenya (method & legal analysis); and Survivor-centred conversations with nine young female survivors aged16 to 24. (method) 

INTERPOL– collected and analysed both qualitative and quantitative data from national law enforcement agencies, relevant specialised units and partner organisations to measure the scope and nature of OCSEA; and Conducted a qualitative assessment on the capacity of national law enforcement authorities to respond to OCSEA cases by interviewing serving officers.

UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti – carried out a national representative household survey of 1,014 children aged 12 to 17 in Kenya. On behalf of each child, one parent/caregiver was interviewed as part of the data collection. The survey achieved 100% fieldwork coverage.

The data collection was followed by a triangulation of the data and findings of all three agencies.

Kenya Disrupting Harm Kenya report and advocacy brief

These resources are created to help partners amplify the work of Disrupting Harm, the first-ever research project of its kind. Implemented by ECPAT International, INTERPOL, and UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti, with financial support from the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children through its Safe Online initiative, Disrupting Harm aims to better understand how digital technology facilitates sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents, both online and offline.

Social media assets will be added for each major announcement and content will be regularly updated. 

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Image Credits

© UNICEF/UN017601/Ueslei Marcelino