Digital ‘serious’ game to combat online child sexual exploitation and trafficking in Thailand and Cambodia

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

A project led by the Centre for Child Protection, aiming to prevent the online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) of children in Thailand and Cambodia, has launched following a funding grant from the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children (End Violence Partnership).

Professor Jane Reeves, Co-Director of the Centre for Child Protection, will work with ECPAT, A21, Playerthree and the University of Stirling to help educate children in Thailand and Cambodia about OCSEA and trafficking through a culturally sensitive digital ‘serious’ game. The Safe Online grant of £461,270 has been awarded between the partners for the two-year project and is a part of the End Violence Partnership’s latest $10 million Safe Online investment round focusing on cutting-edge technology tools to prevent and respond to online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Existing research combined with the local knowledge of partners ECPAT and A21, has identified that OCSEA and sex trafficking is an ongoing problem in Thailand and Cambodia. The digital game will highlight the dangers of online platforms which recruit children and young people for sex trafficking and other exploitative practices such as grooming for explicit webcam filming.

The digital game will follow the stories of two child avatars, May and Bay, both subtly groomed online in different ways. Designed for children aged 8-14, there will be no sexually explicit material, but the game will have decision points and ‘gaming’ features where players will be rewarded for keeping characters safe. Key professional stakeholders in Cambodia and Thailand will be trained to use the game to educate children and young people in schools and community groups.

The Centre for Child Protection and Playerthree gaming company have previously developed a number of digital games on child protection issues that are successful, at scale and well received by professionals and young people.

Professor Reeves said: ‘Our technological solution builds on the educational theory that people learn best when a topic is structured and when participants can learn in a way that is meaningful to them. Digital games offer this opportunity. One way to help keep children safe online is to design mock, virtual online scenarios and social media platforms where they can develop strategies to practice online safety and strengthen their critical evaluation skills. This way they will question why, for example, they are being asked to send images or join in webcams. This project aims to roll out the digital game, with built-in evaluation and at source reporting – making it a safe, scaled and innovative solution to tackling a global issue of online sexual abuse.’

The Centre for Child Protection was launched in October 2012 and from the beginning has aimed to get to the heart of child protection training by using innovative ideas and the latest technology. It combines contemporary research with an online multi-professional distance-learning advanced MA, standalone modules, and cutting-edge child protection simulations.