Supporting children victimized by online sexual abuse

by , | August 15, 2022 | Aselo News

End violence against children

Our Tech Matters team is delighted and honored to be recognized with a major new grant from the Safe Online initiative at End Violence. This two-year award will provide significant resources for the Aselo open source crisis response platform to assist helplines in better meeting the needs of children victimized by online sexual abuse. Our particular focus with this new grant will be on national helplines in five countries: Chile, India, Jamaica, Thailand, and Zimbabwe.

A major milestone like this provides an opportunity to pause and think about how far the Aselo team has come over the past year, and to share our directions for the next two years. Our overarching goal is to double or triple the number of people (especially children) assisted by our helpline partners, without requiring them to double or triple their staff or volunteer counselors. Not only are we trying to upgrade long-standing capabilities of helplines (such as handling voice calls), we’re also trying to bring them fully into the online world. Aselo already supports text-based channels such as secure SMS, webchat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter direct messaging. Over the next two years, we will also add support for three new channels: Instagram, Line (big in Asia), and email.

One rapidly developing, and highly concerning, problem we are hearing about is children taking intimate images of their bodies and sharing them online. This has already reached epidemic proportions among girls aged 10-12! Our helpline partners are dealing with the fallout when children become targets of threats and blackmail. Helplines are often the place children turn to, as a trusted resource, rather than law enforcement (in some countries, the child might be arrested for sharing such imagery). We will be connecting with domain experts in this field, such as the Internet Watch Foundation, to complement their existing and planned work in these areas.

We are partnering with well-established helplines, since it is the helpline team who are directly helping children. Our team takes no calls or texts: we stand behind those who do! Our job at Aselo is to create great technology tools for making helpline counselors more effective in meeting the needs of children in crisis. In making this proposal, we committed to close collaboration with:

  • Childline Thailand Foundation
  • Childline Zimbabwe
  • Fundación Para la Confianza (Chile)
  • SafeSpot (Jamaica)
  • RATI Foundation for Social Change (India)
  • Child Helpline International

This latest grant builds on top of an earlier major grant from End Violence which we received in 2020, which enabled us to complete the Aselo platform and launch it with Childline Zambia and Childline South Africa last year. Aselo is now live in six countries with another seven more scheduled by the end of this year. We also want to acknowledge the support of other donors for Aselo, including Twilio.org, Facebook, Okta for Good Fund, a fund of Tides Foundation, the Jenesis Group, and Schmidt Futures.

Over the next few years, we expect to be powering the tech platforms for many helplines, assisting them to do a better job of supporting hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions, of people in need each year. We see this as a transformative application of modern technology to one of the most critical social needs: helping children in crisis.

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