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MDX researchers awarded huge grant to tackle child sexual child exploitation and abuse

24/09/2021
Academics will explore issues facing content moderators relating to their exposure of traumatic child sexual abuse material

Stock and posed image of child abuse victim

Middlesex University is among five organisations which have been awarded major grants by the End Violence Partnership and the Technology Coalition to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA).

The university’s Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) will work on the project in partnership with INHOPE, a global network of hotlines aimed at combating child sex abuse material.

CATS researchers, in collaboration with INHOPE and other sectors specific organisations, will explore and quantify the issues facing content moderators, specifically as it relates to their exposure of traumatic child sexual abuse material.

“We want these content moderators to feel that the work they are doing has real world impacts on the lives of children and young people across the globe. The project will allow us to contribute to online safety in a truly different, yet holistic way--the benefits of supporting content moderators will cascade across victims/survivors, policing and perpetration," Jeffrey DeMarco, Senior Lecturer in Psychology.

They will also identify coping strategies currently used by content moderators, and highlight what works and doesn’t for individuals and organisations involved.

Results of this study will be used to develop a pilot intervention to support and protect the mental health of content moderators.

CATS researcher Dr Elena Martellozzo, a global voice in the field of cyber security and child protection and an Associate Professor of Criminology, said: “This is an excellent opportunity to work with moderators who work tirelessly to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.

“Having the INHOPE as a collaborator is incredibly important.

“Thanks to the INHOPE, we will be able to reach out to moderators from all over the world, and support the tremendous work they do.”

Jeffrey DeMarco, a Senior Research Fellow for CATS and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology who specialises in Forensic, Criminological and Legal research, said: “The work provides us with an opportunity to truly implement intervention at the earliest possible time.

“By working with content moderators, we can better pinpoint and utilize their strengths and expertise in tackling online child sexual abuse material while also gaining insight on where they need support.

“We want these content moderators to feel that the work they are doing has real world impacts on the lives of children and young people across the globe.

“The project will allow us to contribute to online safety in a truly different, yet holistic way--the benefits of supporting content moderators will cascade across victims/survivors, policing and perpetration.”

CATS researchers have previously worked on large projects with organisations such as the NSPCC, the National Police Chief Council and the Internet Watch Foundation.

End Violence is the world’s largest non-governmental funder dedicated to ending online CSEA and since launching in 2016 has invested $47 million (£34.3 million) into 55 projects across 70 countries to prevent and respond to online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Each of the five organisations including MDX will receive between $120,000 (£87,600) to $200,000 (£146,100) to fund their research.

The other projects include Justice and Care which will research the sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines, the Technological University Dublin which will develop a tool using AI to reveal patterns of perpetrators, the Universidad de los Andes which will study interactions between offenders and victims in Latin America and the University of Kent which will shed light on the profiles and help seeking behaviour of people at risk.

Sean Litton, Executive Director of the Technology Coalition, said: “This research will accelerate our understanding of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, giving room for the creation of new policies, tech innovations, and protections that keep children safe online.”

Find out more about the End Violence Partnership and the Technology Coalition funding.

Picture by Shutterstock.

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