Innovative research uses video games to prevent online sexual exploitation of children
Credit: University of Huddersfield
Researchers at the University of Huddersfield’s global None in Three Research Centre have been awarded funding from the United Nations’ prestigious End Violence Against Children Fund.
The Centre is one of 14 projects worldwide to be awarded through the Fund’s latest Safe Online investment round of 10 million US Dollars.
Working in partnership with the Universidade Estadual de Londrina (UEL) and Promundo, both in Brazil, the team, led by Professor Adele Jones and Professor Patricia Tzortzopoulos, will conduct research into online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA). They will use the findings to develop and evaluate ‘Emilio’, an educational video game targeted specifically at young males considered to be at risk of engaging in online abusive behaviour.
The game will aim to head off potential online CSEA at its roots by addressing its underlying drivers among those most amenable to change – the young. Because young people are still developing, it is easier to help them modify their thinking patterns and to make the link between emotion and behaviour, essential for violence prevention.
The innovative research follows the Ni3 Centre’s established model which proved the effectiveness of its first game, ‘Jesse’, focusing on domestic violence and developed for Caribbean children.
The Centre is entering the final year of a £4.3 million project in which research has been conducted with survivors and perpetrators of gender-based violence, and surveys have been conducted with 30,000 children to understand their exposure and attitudes to violence, in Uganda, Jamaica, India and the UK. Four culturally appropriate games from the current project will be released during 2021.
The new ‘Emilio’ project kicks off in January 2021 and will run for two years, with a grant of 750,000 US Dollars.
Online CSEA is perhaps the worst manifestation of what can happen when children enter the digital world unprotected. Every half second, a child goes online for the first time. At any one time, 750,000 individuals are estimated to be looking to connect with children for sexual purposes.
Universal Internet access is predicted by, at the very latest, 2050. That expansion will bring about unprecedented opportunities and incredible connections, leading to the development of communities across the globe. However, to truly harness the benefits of the Internet, we need to protect its most vulnerable users – children.
Collectively, we must do more to invest in the solutions we know work and scale them up for national and global impact. This is not only about human and financial resources, but also about enhancing coordination and sharing evidence and documentation on what is working – and what is not. We must partner with children as agents of change. We must listen to and involve children in the decisions and solutions that affect their lives.
As practitioners, parents, friends, community members, faith leaders, policymakers and researchers, we must act with urgency, and strengthen our movement to do more for children. None in Three’s child-centred approach focuses on prevention through education, ensuring young people’s voices are heard, and underpin the solutions we develop.
Professor Adele Jones, None in Three Research Centre Director, University of Huddersfield, says: “Our research proves that properly designed, prosocial video games can change attitudes that contribute to gender-based violence. With our new partners in Brazil, we will tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse by targeting those most amenable to change: the young. Through them, we can protect children and build futures free from violence.”
Dr. Howard Taylor, Executive Director, End Violence, says: “The global reach of the new grantees’ projects give them the potential to impact every child online — no matter where they live. By leveraging technology and strengthening collaboration, we are creating a stronger global ecosystem to tackle the most serious type of online violence: sexual exploitation and abuse.”
About None in Three: Ni3 is a global research centre dedicated to preventing gender-based violence. It takes its name from the global statistic that one in three women and girls experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime (WHO, 2013). Through partnerships across academic disciplines and national boundaries, its researchers use a mixed methods systemic approach to tackle the pervasive problems of gender-based violence. Believing in prevention through education, the Centre uses its research with those who have experienced violence, to develop immersive video games as educational tools to engage and positively influence the attitudes and behaviour of young people. The Centre is based at the University of Huddersfield and has received funding through the European Union, UK Research & Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund, the University of Huddersfield and now also End Violence. Find out more: http://www.
About the End Violence Against Children Fund’s Safe Online programme: Through the fourth Safe Online investment round of $10 million, End Violence is making another significant contribution to the global fight against online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA). With this new investment, we are welcoming 14 new grantees with cutting-edge projects into our Safe Online community.
These projects will utilise tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science to enhance detection and response to online CSEA.?
Through new technologies, these projects will develop the knowledge and capacity of law enforcement, public authorities and other groups fighting online CSEA across the globe – especially in countries where there is currently little related infrastructure in place. Find out more at: http://bit.