South Africa, 4 November 2022
BREAKING—New report shows that social taboos and stigma around discussing sex may make children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and abuse in South Africa
The ground-breaking Disrupting Harm in South Africa report found that social taboos and stigma around discussing sex may increase children’s vulnerability to online sexual exploitation and abuse. 48 out of 49 frontline workers surveyed for the research said they believe that, “taboos around discussing sex and sexuality as a key factor increasing children’s vulnerability to online sexual exploitation and abuse.” Additionally, 65% of the frontline workers surveyed told Disrupting Harm researchers that the stigmatisation of victims of sexual violence is the main reason why children do not report online sexual exploitation and abuse.
Disrupting Harm in South Africa also found that there is a lack of formal reporting from children. While discomfort in discussing sexual abuse may play a part, children may also be unaware of the established reporting mechanisms. 65% of frontline workers said that individuals not knowing how to access the reporting mechanisms available in South Africa hindered the rate of reporting online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
There is also a lack of knowledge about online child sexual abuse and exploitation among parents. 71% of frontline workers indicated that a lack of knowledge and understanding about the risks of online child sexual exploitation and abuse was one of the most significant reasons for the lack of reporting because parents couldn’t provide their children with the appropriate advice.
Disrupting Harm in South Africa calls for greater action from the government to enforce existing legislation around online child sexual exploitation and abuse and engage in awareness-raising programmes and campaigns to increase the general public’s understanding of these forms of violence.
The research in South Africa found that between 7-10% of internet-using children aged 9-17 had experienced clear instances of online sexual exploitation and abuse in the last year alone. Experiences reported by children included being offered gifts or money in exchange for images, videos, or in-person sexual acts, being threatened or blackmailed to engage in sexual acts, and having their sexual images shared without their permission.
Children in South Africa are subjected to various types of online sexual abuse and exploitation, including:
Prevention is key to tackling online child sexual exploitation and abuse. Disrupting Harm in South Africa outlines a number of ways to proactively respond to this urgent issue, including:
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.