First Step Cambodia


First Step Cambodia is a non-governmental organization with the primary goal of ensuring that all Cambodian children are protected from sexual abuse and that all those affected by abuse are supported and enabled to reach their potential. Applying the socio-ecological model, we achieve this goal by addressing the issues of child sexual abuse on the individual, family, community and societal levels simultaneously

We work on prevention and protection in schools and communities, developing the capacity of professionals working with children, providing counseling and direct support to children affected by sexual abuse, conducting research and advocating for societal change.

Today, First Step Cambodia is identified by local and regional organizations as a leader in the provision of direct services to both boys and girls. It remains the only organization in Cambodia specialized in giving support to boys who are survivors of sexual abuse and to children displaying sexually harmful behavior, as well as their families, caregivers, supporters and communities.

Until the development of First Step’s specialist services, nothing of its kind existed in Cambodia. Through our advocacy
efforts, capacity building of professionals working with children in Cambodia, and our close
collaboration with partners and government, we are beginning to change beliefs that are
considered taboo, every day improving the responses given to boys when they need or seek support.



No child should be exposed to violence, abuse or neglect. Yet, in Cambodia, one in two children has experienced severe beating and over five percent of Cambodian children experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday (UNICEF, 2014). Poverty, substance abuse, lack of positive parenting, domestic violence, absence of sex education, lack of knowledge on the issues in communities and insufficient protection and reporting mechanisms are some of the main factors at play. Combined with traditional societal norms and a lack of understanding what qualifies as sexually inappropriate behavior, we believe that the prevalence of sexual abuse and sexually harmful behavior remains significantly underreported (FSC, 2019).

First Step Cambodia has been on the forefront of bringing change to Cambodia. Besides our core direct support program, we build the capacity of professionals, raise awareness in schools and communities, conduct research on child sexual abuse within the country, and support the government in improving and developing child protection systems, social work standards, policies, and much more.

Boys face an uphill struggle to receive support, yet they are in a situation where they need our support the most. Global evidence suggests that at least one in six males experiences some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime, a number confirmed by research carried out in Cambodia (UNDP, 2013). Moreover, a meta-analysis in the region confirmed that the median prevalence rates are higher for boys than girls, while less than 6% of boys seek help after sexual abuse, compared to 40% of girls (UNICEF, 2012 and 2014). Boys who are sexually assaulted may experience lasting stigma. They are often expelled from and blamed by their family and community, and receive little or no support (FSC, 2019).

In addition, research indicates that up to 40% of child abuse is carried out by older children (Snyder, H. N., 2000). The regional ‘Partners for Prevention’ research (2013) concluded that amongst the sample of men who admitted sexual abuse or rape, over 50% committed their first offense under the age of 18, with a significant percentage under the age of 15. First Step provides direct support services to both children affected by and children displaying sexually harmful behavior. Providing a quick response and direct support services to children who display these behaviors, in collaboration with the child’s family, has resulted in a change to healthy age-appropriate behavior in most cases.

The majority of international organizations that support or run gender-specific programs, focus their resources on supporting girls and women. We recognize the many challenges and issues girls and women face in life. However, as a result, the issues affecting boys are insufficiently addressed and specialized services for boys are limited in developing countries such as Cambodia. First Step provides its services to both boys and girls but remains the only organization in Cambodia that advocates for boys’ rights and is specialized in meeting the needs of boys who are survivors of sexual abuse and boys who display sexually harmful behavior. 

Capacity Building

We provide specialist training, learning and consultation opportunities to improve the capacity of professionals to deliver quality services to children and families affected by sexual abuse, harmful sexual behaviors, and psychosocial issues. We offer a wide range of training programs; including Social Work with Child Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Case Management, Working with Family, Social Work Practice, Alcohol Abuse, and Sexually Harmful Behavior by Children. 

We strive to base our social work and program design on sound research. As research into the issues of sexual abuse, especially related to boys, is scarce in Cambodia, FSC has been leading and contributing to evidence-based research related to the sexual abuse of boys and sexually harmful behavior displayed by children in Cambodia and the wider region. We use our findings to increase the knowledge of and awareness among families, professionals, and government in Cambodia. Learn More and consult our training opportunities.


Our social workers provide regular counseling and therapeutic services to children for a period of up to 24 months and are always available in times of need. In most cases, we are confronted with vulnerable families and poverty-related issues. We maximize children’s chances of recovering from their experiences and living in a safe and supportive home environment by increasing the family’s knowledge, involvement and capacity, and by providing practical support: assistance in court, help in transportation, access to education or vocational training, food security, health care, and income generation. To achieve this, FSC uses a strong network of partner organizations. Learn more or read our case studies.

Our Core Programs

FSC applies the Socio-Ecological Model, a model that considers the complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors.

The model also highlights the importance to act across multiple levels of the model at the same time. This approach is more likely to sustain prevention efforts over time than any single intervention. Our programs are aligned with this approach and are designed to tackle the issues of child sexual abuse on all levels in society simultaneously. In 2019, FSC was selected as a promising practice by the Family Care First network.

The model allows us to understand the range of factors that put children at risk for violence or protect them from experiencing or perpetrating violence. The overlapping rings in the model illustrate how factors at one level influence factors at another level.