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. 

Read on to learn more!
 

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.

ECPAT INTERNATIONAL

ECPAT International is the only children’s rights organisation that is solely focused on ending the sexual exploitation of children.

Today, ECPAT International is a growing network of over 122 civil society organisations in over 104 countries. Together, they advocate for a stronger legal environment to protect children; raise awareness among the public about the issue; partner with the private sector to prevent their services of being misused; research to better understand this crime; and help survivors and victims to come to terms with what has happened to them – and better understand their rights.

Learn more about ECPAT International and ECPAT’s DH research team.

INTERPOL

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. 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 . 

UNICEF

The UNICEF 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. 

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.