For people who have been sexually abused as children, the life path to overcoming the trauma suffered is not a clear, straight line. Sometimes the path is a series of loops where the overall hope is progression towards peace of mind, peace of heart and maybe even to a joyful life.
Some of us thrive as adults. We managed to perform well academically and secure stable jobs. We start a loving family with a trustworthy partner. But we may stumble along the way. It’s important to realize when and why we’re stumbling and to be compassionate with ourselves along the way.
Some of us jump into situations that perpetuate our own victimization as we try to fill the hole of unworthiness in our being. However, some suffer continuous victimization through means beyond our control, such as through the distribution of child sexual abuse material depicting our exploitation.
We are breaking our silence and joining hands with experts who can help disrupt this distribution. Teams of humble heroes are committed to safeguarding children across the globe.
On 25 June 2022, hundreds of women business and ministerial leaders from 60 countries gathered at the Bangkok Convention Center for the closing of the 3-day Global Summit of Women. During the closing ceremony, the Vice Chairman of SafeguardKids Foundation called on women’s natural leadership ability to help keep children safe from violence online and offline.
Confronting the Global Trafficking of Children
by Khun Suriyon Sriorathaikul, Managing Director of Beauty Gems and Vice Chairman of SafeguardKids Foundation Thailand
It’s an honor to be with you this evening. Thank you in advance for your time and attention. I greatly appreciate this speaking opportunity from the organizers of the Global Summit of Women 2022.
Over the course of this summit, we have shared valuable insights and ideas on expanding business opportunities and highlighting women’s distinct role in economic development.
We looked at ways that we can utilize technology – particularly online technology like social media, cryptocurrency, and metaverses – to grow our businesses. And grow back better after the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we witnessed women leave the workforce in alarming numbers. In the US, the number of women who left the workforce was double the number of men. Much of the pressure pushing women out of the workforce was due to increased workloads alongside increased responsibilities at home.
Many families had to work and study together from home. We remained indoors with our children, staring at screens day and night. Children across the globe spent more time online during the pandemic unsupervised. Separated from their peers and restrained indoors, children reached out to people online for social interaction.
Before the pandemic, child trafficking and online child sexual exploitation were already on the radar of law enforcement agencies and child protection organizations across the globe.
Abusers do not need to be in the same room as the child victim. They can groom a child online and convince the child to share indecent photos and videos of themselves.
Some abusers hire a trafficker to find and coordinate children. For example, predators in Western countries pay traffickers in Southeast Asian countries to arrange children to perform sexual acts live on video calls.
Traffickers may be a close relative of the childor a neighborhood nanny. Ignorance to the impacts of child abuse, poverty, Internet connectivity, and English skills can be driving factors of online child sexual exploitation.
During the pandemic, the number of vulnerable children online surged. In Thailand last year, the cases of online child sexual exploitation recorded by the Royal Thai Police’s Task Force for Internet Crimes against Children involved around 400,000 child victims.
Note that many cases of online and offline abuse go unreported. Reasons include fear of retaliation, shame, as well as not knowing who to trust and how to report the abuse. Child protection organizations like SafeguardKids Foundation, Childline Foundation, and Hug Project raise awareness in Thailand about forms of exploitation and what children can do to keep themselves safe.
Online abuse has no borders.
Being aware of the transnational nature of child sex abuse, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, Founder of World Childhood Foundation, shared lessons learned by Sweden with numerous countries, including Thailand. At a 2010 conference by the Thai Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty Queen Silvia highlighted how laws against child sexual abuse materialwere passed in Sweden in 1996 and 2010 to better protect children from sexual crimes.
We listened. We learned. And we lobbied.
In 2015, Thailand passed legislation to criminalize the possession of child sexual abuse material.
Offenders can be imprisoned 5 years for possession, 7 years for forwarding, and 10 years for producing.
This law was passed nearly unanimously, with 193 of 196 parliamentarians voting in favor. The successful lobbying was done by a team of passionate Thai and Swedish patrons who formed SafeguardKids Foundation.
Before this law, Thai police could not detain offenders who were producing and sharing photos and videos of inappropriate interaction with children. Many offenders escaped justice and continued to sexually abuse children in Thailand. These offenders included Thai men and large numbers of foreign men who travelled across the globe for direct contact with children.
Efforts to keep children safe continue until this day. Thai legislators are currently reviewing a bill to extend protection from other forms of online harm to children. The new proposed bill criminalizes online grooming, sextortion, sexting, harassment, cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying. It also criminalizes accessing child sexual abuse material, like Western laws. So far, the draft bill has received positive support fromThai Senate and Cabinet and is under further review by our Ministry of Justice.
As I mentioned, online abuse has no borders. Child safety is a global cause. We must all take part.
As industry leaders, decision-makers and influencers from over 60 countries, what are we doing to keep children safe online and offline?
The business development technologies we discussed during this summit – from social media, cryptocurrency, and metaverses – areexploited by child abusers.
They exploit social media to find child victims and to bond with other people who share harmful interests.
These abusers exploit cryptocurrency to pay for photos, videos, and live performances of child sexual abuse. They use it to pay for access into private groups in the Darknet where they can trade their collections and give each other advice on how to evade detection and justice. (The Darknet is a special-access part of the Internet where people can anonymously interact and hide their communications.)
Now, as we explore the metaverse of virtual worlds online, we must be aware of harmful interaction between people, especially between adults and children in this realm. Harassment, sexual touch, and rape already occur between players in metaverse, and the victims are psychologically and emotionally impacted.
To ensure children’s safety, we can take advantage of women’s natural leadership skills. Women are designed to think about the collective consequences of decisions on broader society, as evidenced by studies on women in the workforce.
You here in this room have the power to influence the impact that technologies and your businesses make on society.
Stay aware of the dangers posed by innovative technologies. Integrate child safety measures into the design of your products and services, contribute to strengthening local communities, support child protection organizations, promote digital literacy and online safety education programs.
During dinner tonight, let’s connect with each other and share ideas on actions we can take to help our children stay safe in the digital world and in the real world. Thank you!
Sexual abuse of children covers a wide variety of activities, from the seemingly innocent to the blatantly obvious and damaging. Intent is the key. To be defined as sexual abuse of children, there must be an intention to create sexual arousal or gratification. This must not be confounded with normal endearments or signs of affection, which may also include body contact as in hugging and cuddling. Child pornography is evidence of a sexual crime committed to a child, why consumption of child pornography for sexual gratification is equal to abuse.
Inappropriately touching the child with sexual intention (such as groping and fondling)
Having the child masturbate another person
Sexually penetrating the child (inserting objects into a child’s vagina or anus or inserting a sexual device into a child’s mouth)
Raping the child (vaginal sex, anal sex and oral sex)
Using the child as a pornographic object (such as taking pictures and videos of sexual activities with children)
Performing sexual activities (masturbation or sex with another person) in front of the child
Exhibitionism (such as showing one’s erect penis to a child)
Using the child as a pornographic object (such as taking pictures of children in swimsuits for sexual arousal)
Talking to a child using sexual innuendoes
Engaging the child in sexual conversations
Persuading the child to participate in sexual interaction and erotic play
Showing the child pornographic materials depicting acts of sexual intercourse by other children or adults
Child sexual abuse material:
Intentionally viewing or downloading sexualized images of children for sexual gratification
Intentionally downloading sexualized stories involving children for sexual gratification
Child sex offenders often record the sexual abuse they commit and share their self-produced child sexual abuse material with others. Child sex offenders also show child sexual abuse material to potential child victims, grooming them into believing that sexual acts between a child and an adult are normal behavior. In short, child sex offenders use child sexual abuse material as trophies of their criminal conquests and as a tool to groom new victims online. Child sexual abuse material should not be available, since it is evidence of a crime against a child.
Alcohol & Drugs
Law enforcement agencies confirm that a significant number of child sexual abuse cases involve drugs and alcohol. Child sex offenders often lure children with offers of alcohol and computer games in attempt to form a bond of trust and understanding. For non-compliant children, some offenders first drug then sexually abuse the child, since they can more easily overpower and control drugged and drunken children. Some offenders go even further by creating a drug dependency to lure the child back.
By Snow White O. Smelser, UNODC, for the April 2015 issue of Forbes Thailand Magazine
Children should be viewed as a country’s most valuable resource, so when they are abused and exploited, the annual economic costs to a country can be quite phenomenal. Even if there were no economic costs, children should still be protected from abuse. In 2014, a UNICEF study estimated that the costs to economies in East Asia and the Pacific were as high as USD$ 205.5 billion. Sexual abuse of children alone cost $39.2 million dollars.
Abused children become a nation’s liability because these same children end up consuming resources for treatment and rehabilitation. Abuse also stunts a child’s creativity and their ability to contribute productively to society, therefore not helping their nation’s GDP reach its fuller potential when they reach adulthood. Some victims repeat the cycle of abuse.
Cost of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is a deeply-embedded private wound, seldom revealed to even the child’s closest friends and relatives. Many of the children who disclose the abuse are met with disbelief and lack of understanding. These children are further traumatized with accusations of lying about the abuse or being the instigator of the abuse.
The life-long impact of sexual abuse not only inhibits a child’s psycho-emotional development, but also affects their educational achievements and their productivity. Child victims of sexual abuse also have difficulty concentrating in school and achieving their full academic potential, in turn resulting in limited opportunities to earn well-paying jobs. A lack of emphasis on self-improvement, poor academic performance and poor job performance result in losses to a child’s real contribution to society when they become adults.
Saving Livelihoods, Saving Money
Researchers have found that the most effective way to estimate the global costs of physical, psychological and sexual violence against children is to calculate the productivity loss of a country. With Thailand’s GDP standing at USD$ 387.25 billion in 2014, the productivity loss in the same year due to violence against children is estimated at USD$ 30.98 billion (8% of Thailand’s GDP). As the annual GDP continues to increase, so will the economic costs of violence against children. If Thailand invests in programs to protect children, we can save money that would otherwise be lost in treatment and rehabilitation costs.
Collaborating with Key Partners
The prevalence of sexual abuse in Thailand is widespread and no single agency alone can take on the challenge of addressing the impact of abuse. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security is addressing several social issues such as human trafficking and elderly welfare, and appear to be already stretched to capacity in providing support and care to victims.
In 2013, the Ministry of Public Health reported that over 19,000 children in Thailand were treated at public hospitals as a result of abuse, with 70% of these children treated for sexual abuse. This figure is a conservative estimate and represents a small percentage of victims presented for medical intervention to hospitals. Even fewer reported their abuse to police.
Thailand in Action
An emerging trend in the ASEAN region is the live-streaming of child sexual abuse images which is viewed daily by hundreds of thousands of predators around the world. To be able to produce such material, a child would be sexually exploited and/or abused whilst being photographed or filmed by a sex offender or their co-conspirator.
Many child sex offenders possess, produce, distribute, purchase, and view child sexual abuse material. Offenders collect, sell and trade such material, and use it as a ‘currency’ to obtain entry into private online and offline communities made up of people who are aroused by sexual activities with children. The demand for child sexual abuse material means that offenders are constantly looking for opportunities to produce new material, meaning that more sexual activities with children will take place.
Offenders also use child sexual abuse material (formerly known as “child pornography”, also known as “child abuse material” and “child exploitation images”) to groom other children into believing that sexual activities between children and adults are normal and acceptable. Besides it being a tool for grooming victims, child sexual abuse material is concrete evidence that a crime has been committed against a child and should therefore be considered a crime scene by law enforcement officials.
Approximately ten years ago, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security proposed a bill called “Materials Inciting Dangerous Behavior Act”, which attempted to directly criminalize child sexual abuse material. It was an ambitious bill that attempted to address several issues and it relegated the issue of child sexual abuse material to a less serious offence. To disrupt the marketing chain benefiting from the abuse of children, legislation needs to be available for law enforcement agencies to intercept, arrest and prosecute offenders.
In 2013, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific recommended that the Thai Government address the issue of child sexual abuse material within its legislative framework and made the following recommendations: That Ministry of Justice…
develop a specific and comprehensive child sexual abuse material offence with robust penalties, including criminalization of the possession and the production of child pornography, whether or not the possession or production is for trade, distribution, or public use
ensure that child sexual abuse material offences can be interpreted to cover a wide range of material and adapt to new technologies
In February 2015, the National Legislative Assembly proposed its first bill to the Thai Government for consideration. The bill – supported by Protection of Children’s Rights Foundation Thailand – recommended a definition of child sexual abuse material that met with the recommendation made by UNODC but also one that went beyond the scope required by the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The bill also prescribed punishment of up to 5 years of imprisonment for simple possession of child sexual abuse material and up to 7 years for trade and distribution of child sexual abuse material.
The criminalization of the possession of child sexual abuse material means that the production of new material by offenders through the abuse of more children will be against the law in Thailand. If this law can be effectively implemented, children in Thailand can continue to remain an asset, contribute positively to the growth of the nation and not become a liability.
What You Can Do
Help ensure a healthier, more productive future for children and for Thailand by:
Encouraging the government to invest in long-term child protection programs
Exploring opportunities with your company to invest resources on child protection initiatives
Learning what opportunities exist to work with other agencies and
Signing the petition at http://www.change.org/childabuse to support the amendment of Thai law to include possession of child sexual abuse material as a specific offense.
In December 2015, the Thai National Legislative Assembly passed the bill criminalizing the possession of child sexual abuse material nearly unanimously, with 193 of 196 members voting in favor of the law.