Most child sexual exploitation cases in Pacific committed by men — Survey

Ninety-three percent of child sexual exploitation perpetrators are men, with 32 percent of women involved with facilitating the exploitation across the Pacific, a recent survey has suggested.

The 22-page report, “Perceptions of frontline welfare workers on the sexual exploitation of children in the Pacific”, was published by ECAPT International this month.

Specifically, the report aimed to gather data on the extent of sexual exploitation of children (S.E.C.) in the region, the level of awareness and the impact of cultural and social norms of the issue.

Twelve frontline welfare workers from Samoa were among 72 other colleagues from Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati, who participated in the online survey that comprised 60 multiple choice questions. 

“Seventy-two (85 percent) of the participants reported seeing child sexual exploitation in the last 12 months,” said the report. 

“Between them, the workers had seen almost 760 cases of child sexual exploitation - around 7 percent of their total welfare caseload.

“Two thirds of victims (68 percent) were girls, and as many as 32 percent of cases involved boys. 

Participants indicated that offenders were most likely to be a family member. 

“Offenders were most likely to be from the child’s extended family, including grandparents, uncles/aunts, cousins, and siblings. Parents/step-parents and community members were the next most common categories of perpetrator. 

“One participant explained that offenders who sexually exploit children were often ‘those who the children have trusted most. They were breadwinners of the whole family as well as tuition fees providers’.” 

The reports suggests that travel and tourism in the region place children at risk of being sexually exploited. 

“As the travel, tourism and trade industries continue to expand throughout the Pacific, so too do opportunities for travelling child sex offenders,” it said. 

“Although only eight participants indicated that the most common type of offender in their experience was a foreigner, anecdotes from the field suggest that this is a problem that is sometimes facilitated by families themselves, with cases including males taking female relatives to cruise ships to offer them for sex to tourists in exchange for money.”

ECAPT International Head of Research Mark Kavenagh said there are various factors that may put children at risk. 

“And although each Pacific nation is different, we saw some common themes. For example, the data shows us that children in extreme poverty or who were living in street situations were consistently identified by workers as at great risk. 

“Workers also noted that labour migration was leaving some unsupervised children at risk too.

“Some welfare workers also identified strong stigma attached to being a victim of sexual exploitation, cultural taboos around discussing sex and the fear of further judgement by communities and other family members as limiting children’s ability to speak out and report offending against them.

“In addition, many smaller communities lack even basic law enforcement facilities – or other resources for victims to report crimes and receive support.”

The participants expressed the need for more resources across the region. 

“All frontline workers in the survey expressed an urgent need for better funding and more human resources to address the problem of child sexual exploitation, as well as for authorities to adopt a more child-friendly approach. For example, there is a strong need for law enforcement officers and courts to create child-friendly spaces where victims feel safe. 

“A practical step as simple as removing any posters related to violent crimes from the spaces where children will enter could be an example of a small but important step towards facilitating children’s access to justice. 

“The availability and quality of medical and legal services were rated somewhat more positively, but responses still indicated significant need in these areas as well.

More than 750 cases were seen by 72 of these welfare workers in the last 12 months. The participants included law enforcement officers, Justice officials, social welfare and youth staff, medical professionals, counsellors and psychologists, participants from organisations supporting L.G.B.T. youth, children with disabilities and orphans, Pastors, ministers and youth leaders. 

ECAPT International, a global network of 109 organisations from 96 countries dedicated to ending sexual exploitation of children, is based in Bangkok, Thailand. 

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