A global light

Childlight, the data institute based in the University of Edinburgh, is exploring how data can be used to tackle the issue of child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) across the world.

Professor Deborah Fry (pictured), Childlight’s Director of Data and Chair of International Child Protection Research at the University of Edinburgh, explained: “It’s a complex task, but the aim is to use data to create change, from prevention to building better responses and strengthening supporting systems in law enforcement, social welfare and education.”

Fry recognises that impressive work has been done, however it’s often been carried out within a particular sector or by a smaller NGO. She said: “As yet, no-one has been able to take a global perspective or conduct global analysis and assess how that translates to national or sub-national level. Similarly, little has been done to explore how local case examples feed into our understanding of global data.”

She believes the DDI environment, and the drive to create a centre of excellence at Edinburgh are important factors in delivering success. “This brings together investment and expertise through initiatives like Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) and the Edinburgh International Data Facility,” she said.

“The goal is to create a data safe haven since we’re working with extremely sensitive data and perpetrators are tech savvy. It’s vital that data security is one of our foundational pillars and, fortunately, there’s a great deal of relevant knowhow at the University.”

Equally, DDI has been important in opening pathways to impact and public private partnerships. Fry added: “We recently launched a Master’s programme approved through EFI. It’s part of our bid to increase the data analysis workforce. In this area data is complex. At a global level, we are operating with multiple countries and data systems, while in CSEA transnational crime proliferates. It’s important to have new thinkers to build our data landscape and understanding of the best ways to prevent and respond.”

Another initiative is Childlight’s Global Data Fellows programme. Working with researchers at all stages of their career, from students to professors, it focuses on how data is collected, curated, and used, as well as how people on similar learning journeys connect with each other. Fry said: “We have approximately 22 Global Data Fellows who we communicate with regularly and bring together annually in Edinburgh. In time, we’re hoping frontline practitioners can join the programme.”

The Institute’s output includes an applied academic element, which involves making recommendations, creating toolkits and helping people design and upgrade systems. This means working with all kinds of partners, including large NGOs, government departments such as public health, and global institutions. “At the same time, we are building a technical advisory role, particularly with law enforcement,” said Fry. “To help us do that effectively we have frontline practitioners in our team. Our Executive Director was previously with Interpol, while alongside traditional academics we have paediatricians and people who have worked in child protection and social welfare.”

Photo of Professor Debi Fry

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