In early 2019, End Violence invested $6.6 million to develop Disrupting Harm, a holistic and innovative methodology and approach to conducting comprehensive assessments of online child sexual exploitation and abuse at national and regional levels. Disrupting Harm is a large-scale research project with multiple data collection components that aims to better understand how digital technology facilitates the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents, both online and offline.
End Violence brought together and funded three organisations (ECPAT International, INTERPOL and the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti) to conduct the research, which will assess the nature of this issue in 14 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. The findings are expected to be published in 2021 and will serve as basis for future work in this area. This includes informing national prevention and response strategies, expanding the reach of Disrupting Harm to other countries and regions, as well as building new data- and knowledge partnerships around it.
Technology has changed the way we connect with one another. For more than two decades, we have used technology platforms – from email, the Internet, to social media – to connect with friends, family, and even strangers across the globe. As technology has adapted, global usage has evolved. The average time spent online continues to climb year-over-year, and millions more people are now connecting through multiple web-connected devices, enabling them to be accessible at all times. However, ever-increasing ways to connect comes with a range of risks –especially for children.
Following the WePROTECT Global Alliance’s Global Threat Assessment, reports produced by law enforcement agencies, and non-governmental organizations working in this space, 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. Although it seems likely that as children engage in a wider range of online activities, their risk of harm may increase, there is a lack of evidence to quantify and qualify this risk. This is making it difficult to prevent and disrupt situations of abuse and exploitation.
Disrupting Harm was created to fill that gap. To prevent and respond to online child sexual exploitation and abuse, we must base our solutions on the latest data and evidence.
Understanding the context, threat and perspectives
Disrupting Harm will create in-depth knowledge of the risks children face online children, how they develop, how they interlink with other forms of violence, and importnatly, what we can do to prevent these risks. 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 three global agencies. This methodology can be adapted to any country or region and will enable cross-country comparisons and collaboration to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Protecting and disrupting harm to children is the responsibility of every adult, including communities and caregivers, law enforcement, governments and technology companies operating the platforms children are using. This is why Disrupting Harm will work to identify priority areas for interventions and practical, evidence- based and actionable recommendations for duty-bearers to protect children from these crimes.
The project will be implemented in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, the Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam. Researchers will conduct national assessments based on new and unique insights, as well as existing sources, in each country. This assessment will be developed using the following sources:
Contextual desk-based research to provide better insight to each country, as the risks and realities will vary from country to country.
Interviews with national duty bearers to gain a deep understanding of legal and policy environment.
Statistics and other information from helpline and hotline operators and the industry.
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 assess access to justice for victims of the crime.
Survivor-centred conversations with young survivors to ensure their perspectives are understood and well incorporated.
National offence-related data to provide an overall picture.
Interviews with national law enforcement and justice actors to better understand the context, risk and potential challenges.
Nationally representative surveys with (internet-using) children and one of their parents in each of the 14 countries to understand more about children’s online experiences, in particular experiences and predictors of online violence, sexual exploitation and abuse.
Understanding the Context
ECPAT International will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the existing research, legislation, policy, and systems addressing online child sexual exploitation and abuse in the 14 project countries. They will also collect relevant data through in-depth interviews with senior duty-bearers and governments; deliver face to face surveys with national welfare staff; interview caregivers, parents and justice stakeholders to assess the access to justice in each country; gather information from national hotlines and helplines; engage with the organisations operating in the tech and digital space; and interview survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation.
ECPAT International is a global network of 121 child rights organisations across more than 100 countries. Since the 1990s, ECPAT has worked to end all forms of sexual exploitation of children; through prostitution; trafficking; child, early and forced marriage, online and in the context of travel and tourism. The ECPAT International Secretariat is based in Bangkok, Thailand, and advocates for stronger legal protection of children; raise awareness about the issue; partners with the private sector to prevent their services from being misused to harm children; conducts research to better understand the crime, and create space for children to access their rights.
Learn more about ECPAT International’s role here.
Understanding the Threat
The Disrupting Harm project is being led by INTERPOL’s Crimes Against Children Unit, which works to identify and rescue young victims of sexual abuse; block access to child sexual abuse material; and prevent sex offenders from travelling abroad to escape justice or abuse children. In this project, INTERPOL will use its expertise and networks to better understand how technology facilitates the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Their assessment will be built on data from law enforcement agencies, NGOs and the digital and online industry. INTERPOL will also conduct a needs analysis of the capacity of law enforcement agencies to counter online child sexual exploitation and abuse in each country.
INTERPOL is the International Criminal Police Organization. As an inter-governmental organization, its role is to assist law enforcement agencies across its 194 member countries to combat all forms of transnational crime. The Organization maintains global databases containing police information on criminals and crime, and provides operational and forensic support, analysis services and training.
Learn more about INTERPOL’s role in preventing crimes against children here.
Understanding Children’s Perspectives
UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti will seek to better understand the perspectives of children through nationally representative household surveys from 1,000 children and 1,000 caretakers in each project country. By speaking to children directly, UNICEF aims to gain deeper understanding of children’s experiences of online violence within the larger context of their general internet use.
The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. The Office works closely with UNICEF and other external academic and research institutions to undertake cutting-edge, policy-relevant research that equips the organisation and the wider global community to deliver results for children. As part of UNICEF, the Office works with national offices and governments in more than 150 countries around the world.
Learn more about UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti’s role here.