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Launch of the Disrupting Harm Report for Malaysia on Technology and the Sexual Exploitation of Children

Posted on Sep 29, 2022

Malaysia, 29 September 2022

BREAKING—New report estimates that an estimated 100,000 children were subjected to online sexual exploitation and abuse in Malaysia.


Country Overview

The ground-breaking Disrupting Harm in Malaysia research found that 4% of internet-using children aged 12-17 had experienced clear instances of online sexual exploitation and abuse in the year prior to being surveyed. When scaled to the population, the report estimates that as many as 100,000 children nationwide were impacted in the past year. The experiences reported by children ranged from grooming, being offered money or gifts in exchange for sexual images, being threatened or blackmailed to engage in sexual acts, and having their images shared without permission. This figure is likely to be under-reported, as children may be uncomfortable disclosing their experiences of sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Disrupting Harm in Malaysia found that discomfort discussing sex and stigmatisation of victims discourage children from raising concerns and can deter both children and adults from reporting incidences of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. 82% of frontline workers interviewed said that they believed that stigma from the community negatively influenced reporting, and 72% cited social taboos around sex and sexuality as an additional barrier to reporting. One frontline worker said, “the subject of child sexual abuse is still taboo with some parents. Although there is increased awareness, the taboo is still there.”

The lack of reporting in Malaysia may also be, in part, due to a lack of knowledge around reporting mechanisms that children, caregivers, and the community can access. 74% of frontline workers agreed that a lack of knowledge around reporting mechanisms was a key barrier to tackling online child sexual exploitation and abuse in Malaysia. 

When children lack age-appropriate information and awareness about topics like online risks, sex, consent, and boundaries, it enables offenders to take advantage as children do not see the warning signs. Disrupting Harm in Malaysia found that 60% of children in the country had not received any sex education in the year before they were surveyed. A frontline worker said, “The government needs to be more active and understand the serious impact on society and community. Young people are looking at all the wrong places to obtain info and support.” Comprehensive sexuality education should provide children with relevant, age-appropriate, and factual information so they are prepared against offenders attempting to harm them. 

Children in Malaysia were subjected to various forms of online sexual abuse and exploitation and other unwanted experiences online, the report found:

  • 9% of children were subjected to sexual comments made about them that made them feel uncomfortable in the past year. The majority of these comments were made by someone they knew. 
  • 9% of children were sent unwanted sexual images in the past year. 
  • 5% of surveyed children were asked to talk about sex or sexual acts with someone when they did not want to, and 3% of surveyed children received a request for a photo or video showing their private parts when they did not want to in the past year. Depending on the context, these experiences could be an indication of grooming.
  • Stigma and discomfort discussing sex were clearly evident in Malaysia, but despite this, some young people reported the online sexual exploitation and abuse they were subjected to and their cases were handled well. The report contains valuable, urgent advice for making things easier for other young people in these situations.

Read the full report here and explore more information under the Country Reports tab.

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About Disrupting Harm

In early 2019, the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, through its Safe Online initiative, 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.

Safe Online brought together and funded three organisations – ECPAT, 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 holistic 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. The methodology developed for these assessments has been implemented across the 13 countries and can be used by other countries in the future.


What is online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA)?

Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) refers to situations involving digital, internet and communication technologies at some point during the continuum of abuse or exploitation. OCSEA can occur fully online or through a mix of online and in-person interactions between offenders and children.