Tackling online sexual harassment this International Women’s Day

08 Mar 2018 UK SIC

Childnet, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, looks at how we can tackle online sexual harassment this International Women’s Day.

Today is International Women’s Day, a global day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women as well as calling on everyone to ‘Press for Progress’ to achieve gender equality.

At Childnet, we see how the internet has transformed how we connect with others, form relationships, explore our identity and express ourselves. It has provided enormous opportunities for girls to take part in social action, express themselves and harness the power of the internet to make a real difference.

However, our work with children, schools, parents and carers also shows that the sexual harassment, misogyny and sexualisation is a real problem for many girls online. Now more than ever, we see a global call for ending violence and harassment against women and girls, and it is clear to us that this must look at the online world as well.

Sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon, but the ‘audience’ and ‘evidence’ provided by digital technology facilitates it and has opened the door for new forms of sexual harassment.

At Childnet we are currently working on Project deSHAME, a two and a half year collaborative project which looks at tackling online sexual harassment taking place amongst children and young people. Whilst our recent research showed that both girls and boys are being targeted by online sexual harassment by their peers, it also highlighted that this form of harassment takes place in a gendered context, with girls being more likely to be targeted than boys, particularly for some forms of online sexual harassment and these incidents often resulting in more negative outcomes for girls.

A recent survey of 1559 UK teens undertaken by Project deSHAME found that:

  • Almost a third of girls ages 13-17 years (31%) have received unwanted sexual messages online from their peers (compared to 11% of boys) in the last year
  • 1 in 10 of teens have been targeted with sexual threats such as rape threats in the last year
  • 14% of girls aged 13-17 said a boyfriend or girlfriend had pressured them to share nude images in the last year (compared to 7% of boys)
  • 65% of teens say that girls are judged more harshly than boys for rumours being spread about their sexual behaviour online

Project deSHAME aims to increase reporting of online sexual harassment as well as to improve how local communities, including schools and police, work together to deliver effective preventative interventions and to respond effectively and sensitively when young people do report.

Young people are a key part of helping to change behaviours and attitudes and our Youth Advisory Board are being consulted on each stage of the project. Afua, one of our Youth Board Member’s delivered a powerful and inspiring speech at this year’s Safer Internet Day event, looking at how young people can be at the forefront of creating a more respectful internet.

Together we can all come together to #PressforProgress!

What is online sexual harassment?

Online sexual harassment is unwanted sexual conduct on any digital platform and is recognised as a form of sexual violence.

Online sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of behaviours that use digital content (images, videos, posts, messages, pages) on a variety of different platforms (private or public).

It can make a person feel threatened, exploited, coerced, humiliated, upset, sexualised or discriminated against.

Please see our full definition of the types of online sexual harassment that can take place and how it can impact different groups of young people differently.

What can we do about it?

If you see online sexual harassment taking place, take action.

Report any content to the platform that you see it on. Each platform has a different way that you can report – find out more here. Remember, if you do make a report it will remain anonymous, this applies to any platform you may use.

It’s happening to a friend or someone I know

  • If you know someone who is being targeted, make sure they are safe and they are receiving help. Listen and be there for them. Speak to them and encourage them to tell a trusted adult. This could be a teacher, parent, carer, older sibling or cousin.
  • Think how about you can #PressforProgress and call out unwelcome behaviour online – don’t go along with it.

It’s happening to me

It can be really upsetting and worrying if you are being targeted by online sexual harassment. Remember, it’s never too trivial to tell someone. Reach out to an adult that you trust and can speak to. It’s not your fault, even if people have made it seem like it is and you shouldn’t be embarrassed. If it helps, ask a friend to come with you to talk to an adult. There are also places where you can get free and confidential support:

  • Childline – You can get confidential help and advice about any problem that you may have. You can chat online at www.childline.org.uk or call for free 0800 1111  
  • The Mix – Free confidential support for young people under 25 that will help you explore any issue that is worrying you and find organisations that can help you further. You can chat online at www.themix.org.uk or call for free on 0808 808 4994 
  • Stonewall  – An organisation for all young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people – as well as those who are questioning. There’s helpful advice on their website and you can also find out about other local services in your area. www.youngstonewall.org.uk  

I’m a professional working with children

­If a young person comes to you and is being targeted by online sexual harassment by their peers make sure you:

  • Take their report seriously and listen to them
  • Respect their privacy and their choices without offering confidentiality. Make sure the young person knows that you will have to tell someone if you are worried about their, or another child’s safety.
  • Make sure that any decisions you make are done in discussion with the young person and they always know why and how you are going to take the matter forward

The Professionals Online Safety Helpline (POSH) can assist professionals and volunteers who work with children and young people with any concern about online safety.
For further advice and resources please click here.

If you would like to be kept up to date with Project deSHAME then please sign up to our mailing list.

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