Disrupting Harm

Building a comprehensive understanding of the threats of online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Timeframe: 2023-2025
Budget: USD 7 million
Donor: Safe Online

The situation

In our ever-evolving digital landscape, the internet has become an integral aspect of children's lives, offering opportunities for communication, education, and entertainment. Yet, alongside these opportunities, it also poses a significant threat to their safety and well-being.

Currently, the lack of data and evidence on children’s interaction in the digital environment makes it difficult to prevent and disrupt situations of online 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.

About the project

Disrupting Harm embodies a comprehensive, cross-sectoral research project. Its primary aim is to provide high-quality primary data concerning children's exposure to online sexual exploitation and abuse. Furthermore, it examines how national protection systems are addressing this critical issue.

Through engagement with diverse stakeholders, including children, this project gathers evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse, providing a comprehensive array of perspectives. This approach allows for evidence-based recommendations tailored for key stakeholders.

The initial success of the first phase of Disrupting Harm , conducted between 2019 and 2022 in 13 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, paved the way for an expansion to  12 new countries in four additional regions: Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia.

Project activities

The Disrupting Harm research methodology includes the following activities:

  • Analysis of national legislation and policies related to (online) child sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • Conducting nationally representative household surveys with internet-using children and their care givers.
  • Engaging with national law enforcement agencies to understand their capacity to effectively respond to crimes against children.
  • Interviews with children and young people who have experienced online sexual exploitation and abuse during childhood.
  • Interviews with frontline service providers and justice professionals who are working with cases of online child sexual exploitation and abuse to understand their practices, capacities, and needs.

Project updates

Phase 2 of Disrupting Harm studies: Expansion in 12 new countries

On 7 December 2023, the Safe Online partnership with ECPAT International, INTERPOL and UNICEF announced its implementation in 12 new countries: Armenia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Jordan, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Serbia and Tunisia.

Working in new regions presents as an opportunity to advocate for the strengthening of the evidence base relating to online child sexual exploitation and abuse in a more comprehensive scope.

The USD 7 million investment will enable robust research on online child sexual exploitation abuse, conducted in collaboration with national expert organizations.

By 2025, the Disrupting Harm project will produce evidence-informed roadmaps for these countries to strengthen their prevention and response to online child sexual exploitation abuse.

In this second phase of the project, INTERPOL and its National Central Bureuas (NCBs) will engage with law enforcement agencies and important stakeholders to facilitate in-country visits, with the aim of understanding the current law enforcement response in each country. 

The country reports from DH1 and further updates on the second phase of Disrupting Harm can be found on the main project webpage here: https://safeonline.global/disrupting-harm/

Phase 1 of Disrupting  Harm studies:

The first phase of the project was implemented from 2019 – 2022 in 13 countries across South-East Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa.

Headline findings from the first phase:

  • Between 1% and 20% of children encountered some form of clear online sexual exploitation and abuse in the year before the survey. This points to tens of thousands, if not millions, of children facing these threats annually.
  • Over a third of children did not disclose their abuse experiences, with nearly half citing a lack of knowledge about where to seek help. Only an average of 3% reported these crimes to law enforcement or helplines.
  • Most countries lacked frontline service providers equipped to support victims.
  • Specialized police units dedicated to combating online child sexual exploitation and abuse play a crucial role in improving national and global responses.

With strong efforts from national partners and stakeholders, the findings and recommendations from the first round of Disrupting Harm studies supported significant policy and legislative changes including:

  • In Malaysia, legislation was amended to criminalize sexual extortion and livestreaming of child sexual abuse, aligning with Disrupting Harm recommendations.
  • Indonesia used Disrupting Harm insights to develop a National Roadmap on Child Online Protection under a presidential decree. This initiative informed revisions in national standards, training modules for child protection services, and the creation of a web-based platform to enhance children's awareness of violence and online safety.
  • Tanzania integrated findings and recommendations from the project into education and training materials developed by the Ministry of Health units for Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children

For more findings from the first phase of Disrupting Harm including Data Insights, infographics and videos:  https://safeonline.global/disrupting-harm/#findings