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.
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.
- 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 (DH) 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, Uganda, Thailand, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Philippines, Viet Nam and Namibia.
Disrupting Harm in Namibia is the eighth in a series of reports which shares the findings of children’s perceptions of and participation in various online practices, as well as exposes their experiences of online child sexual exploitation and abuse in Namibia.
Disrupting Harm in Namibia has highlighted a number of key areas when dealing with online child sexual exploitation and abuse:
- At least 9% of internet-using children surveyed in Namibia were victims of online sexual exploitation and abuse. Scaled to the national population, this represents an estimated 20,000 children in the past year alone - Experiences of online child sexual exploitation and abuse included blackmailing children to engage in sexual activities in person and sharing their sexual images without permission.
- Children are scared to report cases of online sexual exploitation and abuse - 30% of children surveyed did not tell anyone about the abuse they were subjected to. One child said, “No, I did not [report] because I was afraid. My mom had warned me not to communicate with people that I do not know on social media, so I was afraid that she would criticise me for doing that.”
Extensive data collection took place in Namibia from early 2020 to early 2021. Data analysis for Namibia was finalised in August 2021.
To ensure cutting-edge results from this research endeavour, advice was sought from global experts on the Disrupting Harm in Namibia 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 Namibia aims to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, both online and offline in Namibia.
The recommendations were discussed at a national consultation on 22 February 2022.
ECPAT International – carried out ten semi-structured interviews with senior national government representatives; an analysis of non-law enforcement data and consultations; conducted a survey with 50 client-facing frontline workers; interviewed six girls aged 15-18 who had accessed the legal system for OCSEA cases (additionally, five of the children’s caregivers were also interviewed); ten semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 criminal justice professionals; and carried out a literature review prior to primary data collection which consisted of comprehensive analysis of the legislation, policy and systems addressing OCSEA in Namibia.
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 nationally representative household survey of 994 internet-using children aged 12-17 in Namibia. On behalf of each child, one parent/caregiver was interviewed as part of the data collection. The survey achieved 100% fieldwork coverage.
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.
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