New Hotline Aims to Fight Growing Online Child Sex Abuse

An internet hotline aimed at combating online child sexual exploitation and abuse, which experts say are on the rise in Cambodia, was officially launched on Wednesday at an event in Phnom Penh—almost a year after it first went live.

The website—internethotline­—is run by anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) with support from the InHope Foundation, a global organization that develops local hotlines for reporting online child sexual abuse.

APLE country director Samleang Seila said online child exploitation in Cambodia was a growing concern, but that there was little dedicated research and resources going toward the issue.

Mr. Seila said street-based sexual exploitation—in which children, normally from impoverished families, physically meet their abusers—had declined over the past five years due to broad efforts to catch offenders. This has pushed perpetrators underground and online, he said, where their crimes are harder to detect.

“Sex offenders have had to find other ways to abuse children, which is why online sexual exploitation has increased,” he said.

James McCabe, director of operations for the Child Protection Unit, agreed that “serious pedophiles” were moving off the streets.

“I have to agree there have been significant improvements in cracking down on child trafficking when you think of the resources that have gone into [it],” Mr. McCabe said, adding that the progress “may be a contributing factor to why it’s being pushed underground.”

“Serious pedophiles are now using sophisticated ways to abuse children,” he said, citing as an example the alleged Australian pedophile Peter Scully, who is accused of live-streaming videos of children being tortured and sexually abused in the Philippines.

Mr. Seila said the hotline—which has been active since November, but only recently received an official government endorsement—had received 62 reports of online child sexual exploitation or abuse so far, or “about four or five cases a month.”

Amy Crocker, a development coordinator for InHope, said the new hotline also served as a way for Cambodia to contribute to the global fight against online child exploitation.

“Cambodia can also now participate in [an] international network—they can receive reports from other hotlines, and they can also send reports to other hotlines so hotlines in other countries can take action,” Ms. Crocker said.

Sebastien Marot, executive director of Friends International, an NGO that works with vulnerable children, said the organization’s long-established Child Safe hotline was generally not used for reporting online crimes.

“I honestly don’t know if we’ve received any [cases] so far,” Mr. Marot said, adding that this was not a reflection of the situation in the country, but rather how the hotline was used and promoted.

“It will be interesting to see what APLE will receive in terms of reports and cases and how they can act—that will be very interesting to look at,” he said.

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