Short film creates awareness on child sexual grooming

A still from the short film depicting characters Farah and Sofia (second and third from right) at a party where something unfortunate happens. Photo: WCC Penang

Women's Centre for Change (WCC) recently launched a short film titled Parti on child sexual grooming. The film, sponsored by the High Commission of Canada in Malaysia, is based on a true story and details the experience of a teenage girl named Farah who is befriended by an older girl, Sophia.

Farah is a young and impressionable teenager and gets acquainted with Sophia, who claims to be a former student at her secondary school. Sofia takes Farah under her wing, buying her expensive gifts and inviting her for outings.

Through her ‘friend’ Sofia, Farah who comes from a family that isn’t well-off, gets to experience the life that she has always dreamt of.

She gets to carry a nice handbag, go to cafes, on movie outings, to the beach, and more. But little does Farah know that Sofia has an ulterior motive: She is grooming her.

Public awareness is needed to eliminate child grooming from happening. Photo: YouTube/WCCPenangPublic awareness is needed to eliminate child grooming from happening. Photo: YouTube/WCCPenang

One day, Farah is invited to a party by Sofia. And in the blink of an eye, her life changes forever.

The film aims to raise awareness among the public not just about grooming alone but about the vulnerability of young girls who are often easy prey.

Grooming, as defined by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty UK to Children is to “build a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can by manipulated, exploited, sexually abused or trafficked”.

WCC programme director Karen Lai says that most rape victims are aged between 13 to 15 as these young girls are most susceptible to the influence of a groomer.

Groomers often approach or initiate contact with children online. A study released by Unicef (Disrupting Harm, 2022) estimated that every year, around 100,000 children in Malaysia aged 12 to 17 may experience some form of sexual exploitation or abuse online.

“Child sexual grooming is inherently wrong and exploits the vulnerability of children. It’s important to create public awareness on this because it can cause children severe psychological and physical harm. It's also a violation of their human rights,“ says Lai.

WCC social worker Asmar Hamariyah Ahmad Bakhari. Photo: WCC PenangWCC social worker Asmar Hamariyah Ahmad Bakhari. Photo: WCC Penang

WCC social worker Asmar Hamariyah Ahmad Bakhari says that prior to the pandemic, WCC handled 64 child sexual abuse cases (CSA) in 2019. There was a slight drop in cases during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, with an average of 50 cases each year.

However, once the MCO was lifted in late 2021, I observed that the trend of CSA cases changed drastically. There was a two-fold increase to 114 cases in 2022. The victims were also getting younger (12 years and below). As a social worker, I am alarmed by such a disturbing trend, says Asmar.

The pandemic, she explains, caused education to go online. As a result, the number of children accessing the internet grew exponentially, causing groomers to leverage on this to target their victims.

Most victims do not realise they are being groomed. As such, parents and society at large need to be aware of this sexual grooming process in order to prevent children from being abused and exploited, she says.

Asmar says that the short film they released will help parents and children understand a groomer's modus operandi which involves manipulating the child into a relationship of trust with them.

We highlight a concerning trend of luring girls to private parties by syndicate groomers where they will be sexually abused, she says.

Lai advises parents to take action immediately if they suspect their child is being groomed.

"If you suspect that a child is being groomed, you need to take action immediately and report your concerns to the appropriate authorities such as the police and child protection services," she says.

Children too can be educated on the dangers of grooming. They can be advised to talk to a trusted adult - parents, a teacher or a school counsellor - if the alarm bells ring. They can also contact a women's NGO for help, she adds.

“Family support and community awareness is much needed to eliminate child sexual grooming,” she concludes.

Watch the film here.

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