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  • Writer's pictureAlex Cher

What is your "Why?" Here's mine.

How did you get into Trust & Safety? Was it a conscious choice or pure chance, or a combination of both? Also, what kept you in a career that can be draining, harrowing and never ending? Do you think work in this industry requires a personal purpose?

Some years ago a manager (one of the best I had!) asked our team, whose main focus was on countering the distribution of online child sexual abuse material, about our “Why” in doing the work that we do. More specifically: 

  • What brought us here? 

  • What makes us do the work that we do? Is there purpose to this work?

  • What makes us wake up every day and go face-to-face with some of the worst pieces of content humankind can produce? 

Having previously written about my journey to and in the world of online safety, I want to dedicate this post to my “Why” and how I came to doing the work that I do. 

Looking back, I always had some level of fascination with crime and how it can be solved. I always say that in an ideal world I would have worked at a law enforcement agency. However, being an ethnic minority female in a very patriarchal society did not lend itself well to that particular career. 

After some consideration I decided to study psychology without truly knowing that the field of criminal and forensic psychology exists. Predictably, it is something I discovered fairly quickly, but had to wait until the very last year of my degree to be able to select it as one of my courses. I was utterly fascinated - this was my chance to work in crime prevention without being in law enforcement. I spent hours and days of my last university summer pouring over every book on the subject I could find at the library, toying with an idea of a postgraduate degree in criminal justice, and relishing the idea of finding a career path to match. 

Boy, was in for a rude awakening! It became apparent very quickly that the demand for someone with my interests and education was close to zero in Kazakhstan. Weighing my options, I decided to stay in my home city and seek opportunities locally. 

After spending two exceedingly dull years working in the coal mining industry, I have been offered an entry into the world of internet regulation, and distribution of illicit content online. If I remember correctly, it sounded something like “We started this hotline and need someone to run it. We only have a website though.” That’s how I joined the Internet Association of Kazakhstan and their budding internet hotline project. (Read more about how that went and where it led). 

Despite an array of topics covered by the hotline, I zeroed in on the one that I felt warranted the most attention - online child sexual exploitation (OCSE). It could not be any higher on the harm scale and yet in 2012 it was woefully low on the country’s social and political agenda. Armed with a determination to change things for the better, some knowledge gained from my criminal psychology course and a summer of intensive self-study, I dived in at the deep end and never looked back. 

Coming to the world of internet safety was a challenge, a revelation, one of the best and the hardest things I did. Over a decade later I still relish the challenge, get excited and intrigued by the new technologies, feel frustrated by the same mistakes being made yet again and remain an advocate for online communities who don’t often get asked about their wishes and woes. Putting it plainly, I do the work that I do, no matter how harrowing it can be at times, because I chose my paths years ago and, no matter how many detours I make, I am determined to stick to it for as long as I can or until technology-facilitated crime ceases to exist as a phenomenon.



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