Note: This blog includes the lived experiences of sexual abuse survivors in ChildFund’s programs who gave us permission to share their stories. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy. A content warning is advised, as many of these stories include serious topics such as sexual assault, abuse, grooming and coercion. Below are links to resources you might find helpful.
Beverly Komen, project officer with ChildFund Kenya's local partner organization Lifeskills Promoters, talks to primary school students at an awareness and response class on online sexual abuse in Kilifi County, Kenya, as part of the ChildFund Safe CLICS project.
The internet is rife with images of child sexual abuse. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, images and videos of children being sexually exploited and abused – known as child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) – are now reported online 80,000 times every single day. This borderless crime affects children in every country in the world, and behind every image and video are real children – children who are being abused by someone they personally know or exploited after being groomed by a predator online. As the images and videos are uploaded, downloaded and shared by people all over the world, children are retraumatized over and over again.
ChildFund first learned about the scope of the problem when our country offices around the world began to raise the issue again and again as something of top concern for children’s safety. Children in communities from Guatemala to the Philippines to Kenya were being abused and exploited by perpetrators who produced, shared and profited from CSAM. In some low-income communities, children found themselves at even greater risk of being exploited for profit by parents, caregivers, relatives and friends who were desperate for money and sometimes did not fully understand the lasting harm that this type of abuse can have on children.
We decided to begin creating holistic programs that would protect children in the communities where we work – both through preventive community education on digital safety and sexual violence, as well as through resources for survivors and their families, strengthening of child protection mechanisms and more. Safe CLICS in Kenya is just one example of those programs.
In 2022, our Kenya team received a $1 million grant from the End Violence Fund to lead Safe CLICS, a three-year project. Safe CLICS stands for Safe Community Linkages for Internet Child Safety. The project, operating across four counties in Kenya, works with local government institutions, schools, communities and families to help them effectively recognize and respond to online child sexual abuse.
As part of the project, children participate in group awareness and response classes and have access to trained psychologists to get extra support.
Youth at a boys' secondary school in Kenya participate in group awareness activities on online sexual abuse as part of the Safe CLICS project.
Khalidi, 6, is just one of the children who is receiving counseling through the project. He and his brothers, ages 7 and 9, were coerced into performing a sex act while being filmed by a neighbor. When Khalidi’s parents found out, they reported the incident to local police, who then reached out to a child protection volunteer – trained under the Safe CLICS project – in Khalidi’s community.
Psychologist Teresiah Kamau from ChildFund’s partner Childline Kenya now counsels Khalidi and his brothers. The case is still ongoing in court while the boys receive their counseling through the project.
Teresiah Kamau speaks to Khalifi and his brothers during a Safe CLICS counseling session.
As important as it is for children to feel comfortable enough to reach out for help, it is equally important for parents and the entire community to support a child’s decision to report. In part because of the supportive environment created by Safe CLICS, Khalidi’s family was able to go through the proper methods to report the abuse and begin the process toward healing and justice.
Michael, 16, is also receiving counseling through Safe CLICS. He was recently groomed online and coerced into meeting up with an adult in person in Mombasa, Kenya. During the meetup, he was raped.
“I was filled with anger. I was depressed,” says Michael. “It really disturbed my mind. It disturbed my studies. That is when I decided to tell my teacher.”
Fortunately, teachers at Michael’s school were trained in how to respond under the Safe CLICS project. After Michael informed his teacher of the assault, the case was referred to local police and Michael began to receive counseling through the project.
Not everyone has access to programs such as Safe CLICS, but everyone can take preventive measures that can go a long way in protecting children on the internet. So, what are some effective ways parents can monitor their children's online activity without invading their privacy?
• Have open conversations with your child about the risks and benefits of the internet. This opens the door to trust between you and your child.
• Instruct your child never to share personal information, pictures, plans and photos or videos with strangers and public platforms. If your child is on social media, monitor what they have posted and what may show up on their timelines while online.
• Implement privacy protections like enabling parental controls, setting a screen time limit and blocking specific apps and features. Make sure your child knows how to report suspicious activity online.
With so many threats to children’s well-being online, we must take the necessary steps to protect children. Safe CLICS is one example of how organizations like ours can help strengthen government agencies’ capacity to prevent and respond to online sexual abuse, improve children’s self-protection skills with the support of caregivers and communities, increase public awareness and improve connections to reporting and referral services. As a result, more children and communities can become aware of online sexual abuse and can be better able to help those who need it.
You can donate to our programs to end online sexual abuse here.
Thank you to our Safe CLICS partners and volunteers for what you do – you are making a difference!