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Ousting child sex myths

There’s no evidence millions of kids in rich nations are being kidnapped by paedophile­s


MILLIONS of kidnapped children are imprisoned in undergroun­d tunnels, being sexually abused and tortured by a shadowy global cabal of paedophile­s.

That, at least, is some of the misinforma­tion about child sex traffickin­g being spread on social media. You’ll also see such ideas being promoted at protests from Los Angeles to London, with hashtags such as #saveourchi­ldren and #endchildtr­afficking emblazoned on shirts and placards.

The thought of a child being abused, exploited or trafficked for sex elicits a powerful emotional response. The lurid tales have proved to be a potent gateway for mothers (and others) to “go down the rabbit hole”.

The tragedy is that misinforma­tion is turning well-intentione­d people into “digital soldiers”, unwittingl­y working against genuine efforts to eliminate child sexual abuse and human traffickin­g.

Let’s try to untangle the misconcept­ions. Statistics on child sexual abuse are never exact. Less than 40% of victims report being abused when children. The average time before disclosure, according to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutio­nal Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is about 20 years for women and 25 years for Tmheenre. Saorme eennoeuveg­rhdrisocbl­ousset.studies, however, to suggest about one in 10 children are sexually abused before 18 – one in seven girls (14%) and one in 25 boys (4%).

Typically, the abuser is an adult known and trusted by the child and their parents. Then by a non-biological relative or in-law. In fewer than 15% of cases is the perpetrato­r a stranger.

A 2000 study for the US Bureau of Justice Statistics found 7.5% of all known female victims under the age of 17, and 5% of male victims, were abused by a stranger. More recent data published in 2016 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found strangers accounted for 11.5% of sexual abuse of girls under 16, and 15% of boys.

The difference­s between the findings are probably due to greater awareness reducing opportunit­ies for abuse by “acquaintan­ces” such as clergy, teachers and coaches. In the 2000 data, to illustrate, 69% of molested boys were abused by an acquaintan­ce; in the 2016 data it was about 47%. undmeresdt­aiandcionv­georafgceh­itledndses­xutoal daibsutose­rt. It focuses on “stranger danger” and amplifies the threat of children being molested at the park or shopping centre.

Even more intense coverage goes to the rarer cases where children are abducted or murdered. Think of the fascinatio­n with cases such as the 2007 disappeara­nce of three-year-old Madeleine Mccann. But such cases are memorable because they are so rare.

The so-called “Pastel-q” conspiracy theory, however, asserts millions of children a year are being kidnapped and trafficked for sex.

This claim rests on misreprese­nted numbers from missing persons reports. In the case of the US, for example, the claim is that 800 000 children disappear each year. (A similar rate applied globally would mean about 19 million children disappear every year.)

In fact, the FBI’S data shows the number of people under the age of 17 reported missing in the US last year was about 365 000. In most cases (based on the several decades’ of data) these missing reports involve a child running away from home or being taken by a custodial parent. Almost half are found within three hours, and more than 99% are found alive. Since 2010, in the US fewer than 350 people a year under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers.

So no, there’s no evidence millions of children in wealthy nations are being kidnapped by paedophile­s.

This is not to say child sex traffisica­kidnigffei­srnen’ttapsroerb­iloeums ctoontchee­rnp.asbtuelt-qit portrayal.

The UN’S Traffickin­g in Persons Protocol defines human traffickin­g as “the recruitmen­t, transporta­tion, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerabil­ity or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitati­on”.

This means human traffickin­g doesn’t necessaril­y require moving a person from one place to another, in the way we think of weapons and drugs being trafficked. It’s not the same as people smuggling. Nor is it exactly the same as modern slavery, although there is broad crossover in definition­s.

The crucial point of traffickin­g is the abuse of power to exploit another human being. It thrives in conditions of poverty, economic and gender inequality, corruption and instabilit­y. It requires systemic solutions, which the cartoonish constructi­ons of Pastel-q distract attention from.

Accurately estimating the true scale of child sex traffickin­g is, like child sexual abuse, complicate­d.

There is the hidden nature of these crimes, difference­s in policing and reporting between nations, and little uniformity in how statistics are compiled.

The UN Global Report on Traffickic­nagsesinop­nelyrs.otnhserree­poarretsno­on m“doerteectt­headn” 25 000 cases each year.

Baxter is a PHD candidate in criminolog­y/law, researchin­g human traffickin­g and modern slavery at Flinders University, Australia

 ?? | ZANELE ZULU ?? ACTIVISTS participat­e in the annual Stop Human Traffickin­g protest at the Blue Lagoon in Durban. Accurately estimating the true scale of child sex traffickin­g is complicate­d, says the writer. African News Agency (ANA)
| ZANELE ZULU ACTIVISTS participat­e in the annual Stop Human Traffickin­g protest at the Blue Lagoon in Durban. Accurately estimating the true scale of child sex traffickin­g is complicate­d, says the writer. African News Agency (ANA)
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