Friday, July 23, 2021

Hundreds of sexual assault cases among children due to online exploitation, say police

Panel on child online protection hears of jump in number of sexual assault cases, both physical and non-physical.

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Police today said 993 cases of physical sexual assault involving children below the age of 18 were reported in 2020, an increase from 732 and 591 reported in 2019 and 2018 respectively.

Assistant commissioner Siti Kamsiah Hassan, the principal assistant director of the Sexual, Women and Child Investigations Division (D11), said most victims of physical sexual assault are cases of statutory rape among underaged children.

She said 20% of such cases occur without consent, a number she attributed to the trend of children being unaware of the risks of social media.

“These cases happen due to them being overexposed on social media and unlimited internet access,” she said at a seminar on child online protection organised by Unicef and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

“These victims meet strangers whom they befriend on social media such as Facebook. They meet and they have sex. They are not aware of the dangers of social media.”

Police data also showed an increase in non-physical sexual assault cases among underage victims, a jump from 13 cases in 2019 to 51 in 2020.

Siti Kamsiah described these cases as the unconsented distribition of online sexual abuse material.

“All these youngsters like to record their sexual acts and share it with their friends or on private chats,” she said. “We notice this has become a trend in Malaysia recently.”

Meanwhile Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, the children’s commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), raised concerns about the Sugarbook application.

She claimed the controversy surrounding the app had attracted the attention of minors who might join the platform.

“There is a concern that some of these users are under 18 years of age,” she said.

“This is why I urged the government last month to take action against Sugarbook and its activities before they spiral out of control, as I have received information that children are also involved,” she said during the seminar.

She said Suhakam had also revealed that minors are being exposed to online pornography, raising concerns about their vulnerability to becoming victims of sexual exploitation online.

“At an online meeting hosted by the children’s commissioner of Suhakam in April 2020, child representatives highlighted the frightening reality that the increasing use of the internet during the lockdown period may have exposed children to online child predation and abuse.

“Children have admitted that they are viewing pornographic content on the internet,” she said. “What is worrying is that they may also be victims of online child sexual exploitation.”

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