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Towards a better understanding of global experiences of online child sexual exploitation and abuse


The Digital Futures for Children (DFC) centre is working with researchers at the University of Cambridge, UNICEF, and the University of Oxford to examine measures of online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) in diverse contexts around the world. Assuming a global perspective, we not only aim to help advance the conceptual understanding of OCSEA but to validate existing measurements in diverse populations to improve the future study of related risks and harms.

To do so, we will examine the roles of different community and individual risk factors in experiencing and reporting OCSEA in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in especially the majority world, and will validate existing measurements in global populations to improve the future study of these harms. Our proposed outputs – including tangible resources for understanding, reporting, managing, and/or responding to OCSEA and associated risks – will be tailored to diverse audiences, including academic researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.

The project is funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online (Rephrain), which among other things aims to deliver culturally-sensitive approaches to online harm protection. The project will specifically focus on Rephrain’s mission to enable research to develop methods to help children meaningfully participate in digital environments, and experience the many opportunities, while also safeguarding them from harm.

Our aims

Building on the work of other team members from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as UNICEF, our work will specifically investigate how OCSEA is understood and/or classified in policy and practice. Intended project outputs will demonstrate how typologies and classifications designed to measure and assess OCSEA are used and are useful for informing reporting mechanisms for OCSEA, responses to OCSEA, as well as evidence-based policies to address OCSEA. It will also illustrate the relevance of these approaches in and for diverse contexts and regions.

Our team

In addition to our team at the Digital Futures for Children centre (Professor Sonia Livingstone and Anri van der Spuy), the REPHRAIN work is supported by researchers from the University of Cambridge, UNICEF, and the University of Oxford.

Amy Orben

Dr Amy Orben is a Programme Leader Track Scientist at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and Fellow of St. John’s College at the University of Cambridge. She directs an internationally renowned research programme investigating the links between mental health and digital technology use in adolescence. Amy advises governments, health officials and civil servants around the world and has received a range of prestigious awards including the Medical Research Council Early Career Impact Prize (2022).


Dr Sebastian Kurten is a researcher at the University of Cambridge, researching adolescent wellbeing within challenging environments. His primary area of expertise revolves around investigating the relationship between digital technologies and mental health. Through his work, Sebastian aspires to contribute valuable insights that inform the development of targeted strategies to navigate the complex intersection of technology, mental health, and the wellbeing of the younger generation.


 Dr Sakshi Ghai is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, where she investigates the effects of digital technologies on adolescent well-being with a focus on Global South. Sakshi completed her PhD in Psychology at the University of Cambridge with affiliations to the Department of Psychology and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. Her work reflects on two complementary strands of research inquiry: applied research into the effects of digital technologies on adolescent well-being, and meta-scientific research into the diversity of behavioural science.


Dr Daniel Kardefelt-Winther leads UNICEF’s research programme on Children and Digital Technologies, at the Office of Research. He works at the intersection of child rights and digital technology and has several years of experience in designing, implementing and managing cross-national comparative evidence generation projects involving children and adults. In his role at UNICEF, Daniel manages the Global Kids Online and Disrupting Harm projects, generating evidence with children in more than 30 low-middle income countries.