Young people across Europe come together to end peer-based sexual harassment online

11 Apr 2019 Helen Cole

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

Today we are hosting a Europe-wide event to launch our brand new educational resources that help young people tackle online sexual harassment.

The ‘Step Up, Speak Up!’ toolkit has been created by three European children’s charities; Childnet, Kek Vonal (Hungary), and Save the Children (Denmark) as part of Project deSHAME, a European funded project to tackle sexual harassment carried out by young people online. 

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 across Europe.

These freely available resources, which are available in English, Danish and Hungarian, were shaped by an advisory board of young people. These resources will aim to:  

  • Support all schools, youth groups and education settings across Europe 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.
  • Provide other European countries with resources they can adapt and translate to suite their own context.

The event, held today in Brussels sees young people from each of the three countries come together to present these new resources to industry and government, and to talk about why they believe education about tackling online sexual harassment is so important.

The UK Youth Board explained their role in the creation of this toolkit:

“We all joined the Youth Board because online sexual harassment is so rarely spoken about, and yet it is so common. So many people have experienced some form of online sexual harassment yet they never tell anyone or know what to do when they find themselves in that situation. We want to make sure young people know where to find help if they need it, and that adults understand what young people need from them.

We are very proud of our contribution to these resources. We worked hard to make them useful, understandable and relatable. We’re determined to explain what is really going on with our generation and online sexual harassment.”

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 are proud to have worked with the partners across the Europe, as well as with children and young people, teachers and law enforcement, to develop effective and practical preventative programmes and to inform more effective responses to this issue.

Through running Project deSHAME across three countries we have found more similarities than differences in young people’s experiences online. We know online sexual harassment is an issue that impacts on the lives of many young people across Europe, so we have created these resources to be freely adaptable and available to translation.

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?

We have seen growing concerns of sexual harassment in schools, research conducted with 3,257 teens in the UK, Denmark and Hungary, found alarming prevalence of young people targeting their peers with online sexual harassment.

  • 41% of 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’.
  • 1 in 3 (33%) 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 (9%) have received sexual threats online, including rape threats, from people their age in the last year.
  • A quarter of teens (25%) have witnessed young people secretly taking sexual images of someone and sharing them online, also referred to as ‘creep shots’ or ‘upskirting’.
  • 24% of 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 (30%) compared to boys (13%).

As one UK girl aged 14 commented:

“It taught me how to recognise online sexual harassment if it were to happen to me and it taught me what is right and wrong by giving different scenarios. It also taught me some words and phrases I didn’t know, and it taught me that my opinions towards it are just as important as others.”

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 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.

Teachers will have opportunities for adaptation and extension for all activities, plus the toolkit has 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, Denmark and Hungary with the following findings:

  • 77% of 13-17s who participated in the activities said they were confident in recognising online sexual harassment if they saw it.
  • 75% said they know how and where they can report online sexual harassment.
  • 71% 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).

These findings can be found in full at

As one young person from Denmark aged 13-17 said:

“I really liked that we talked about who to talk to. Two things I think was really important – who to talk to, and where to draw the line.”

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