Children’s charity call on all to ‘Step Up, Speak Up’ to end sexual harassment online

14 Mar 2019 Helen Cole

Childnet, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, has launched educational resources as part of Project deSHAME today. These resources aim to increase reporting of online sexual harassment among minors and improve multi-sector cooperation in preventing and responding to this behaviour.

New educational resources, ‘Step Up, Speak Up!’ have been published today by children’s charity Childnet as part of a Europe-wide project to tackle online sexual harassment carried out by young people.  Defined as ‘unwanted sexual conduct on any online platform’, online sexual harassment amongst young people has been an increasingly present issue in schools and local communities. These freely available resources will aim to:  

  • Support all schools, youth groups and education settings across the UK to tackle online sexual harassment
  • Increase awareness and understanding on peer-on-peer online sexual harassment
  • Address responses to those targeted, including tackling victim-blaming culture
  • Call on young people to report if they see it happening online
  • Support teachers and other professionals such as police, to effectively prevent and respond to this issue.

The resources are launched at a moment when government policy is looking to address the online issues young people are facing, with the upcoming DCMS and Home Office Online Harms White Paper soon to be published. The Department of Education have also released their statutory guidance on Relationship and Sex Education which will be mandatory for all schools from September 2020.  

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet, and coordinator of Project deSHAME said:

“Digital technology plays a central role in young people’s lives but it has opened the door for a range of new forms of sexual harassment, making education about these issues more crucial than ever. We have been working collaboratively with children and young people, teachers and law enforcement, as well as industry to develop effective preventative programmes and to inform more effective responses to this issue.

We know that technology has a positive and central part to play in young people’s lives, and we know that they feel passionately about being part of the solution. That’s why we are calling on everyone to ‘Step Up and Speak Up’ when they see sexual harassment happening online.”

Why have these resources been created?

Amidst growing concerns of sexual harassment in schools, research conducted with 1,559 UK teens found alarming prevalence of young people targeting their peers with online sexual harassment.

Over half of UK respondents aged 13-17 years (51%) said they have witnessed people their age circulating nude or nearly nude images of someone they know, also referred to as ‘revenge porn’.

2 in 5 (39%) have witnessed people setting up a ‘bait out’ page or group for people in their school to share sexual gossip or images.

1 in 10 have received sexual threats online, including rape threats, from people their age in the last year.

Almost a quarter of UK teens (23%) have witnessed young people secretly taking sexual images of someone and sharing them online, also referred to as ‘creep shots’ or ‘upskirting’.

23% of UK respondents aged 13-17 years have received unwanted sexual messages and images in the last year, with girls being significantly more likely to experience this (31%) compared to boys (11%).

As one girl aged 17 commented:

“[We need to learn what] “sexual harassment’ really is – in regard to being online. Everyone gets comments about being ‘hot’ and what would be classed as sexual comments, but no one really knows where the limit is; no one is aware of what classes as harassment – comments, photos – revolving around sexualising bodies. Then once we can identify it, we can then be taught how to deal with it.”

Development of ‘Step Up Speak Up! Toolkit’ with young people, teachers and professionals

Using the findings of quantitative and qualitative research, and working alongside both young people and educators, the resources will give young people the opportunity to explore their own attitudes and opinions, and to discuss ways to challenge unacceptable online behaviour. The reporting process is a key theme that runs throughout the toolkit, and the different reporting options are explored and clarified. Opportunities for adaptation and extension are provided for all activities, plus additional information for educators to understand the background of the issues at hand, and guidance on discussing these with students. The toolkit includes:

  • 4 lesson plans covering ground rules, understanding, responding and reporting peer-based online sexual harassment.
  • A teacher toolkit to support educators delivering the lesson plans.
  • Films aimed at raising awareness amongst young people and those supporting them.
  • Poster to signpost to further support in educational settings.
  • Assembly presentation (with scripted guidance).
  • Peer-led workshop plan for young people to deliver themselves.

Supporting guidance for educators and law enforcement

  • Senior Management Handbook for school leadership team on how to prevent and respond to this issue.
  • Guidance on supporting children who display harmful sexual behaviour online.
  • Web-based learning modules for teachers to help them understand the issue.
  • Guidance for police on handling victims and perpetrators, including materials they can use with members of the public.

Significant impact on young people

The project has piloted the resources with schools in the UK with the following findings, which can be found in full at

  • 86% of 13-17s who participated in the activities said they were confident in recognising online sexual harassment if they saw it.
  • 83% said they know how and where they can report online sexual harassment.
  • 73% said it made them understand why consent online is important.
  • 64% said they would feel more confident making a report outside of school (i.e. social media, parents/carers, police).

As one boy aged 14-15 years said:

“I like these lessons because…this is important, this is real life, people do go through these sorts of issues and there are many other subjects and issues like this that don’t get addressed. The more that people get into the real word and they’ll be like ‘oh no I never learnt about this…’”

This article was originally posted on the Childnet website.

Share your feedback:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.