Children call for education on risk of sexual harm online

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research exploring children and young people’s perspectives on online sexual harm and the education they receive around it in school.

The ‘Learning about online sexual harm’ report, produced by The International Centre at the University of Bedfordshire, analysed the views of more than 260 children aged 11-18 from primary and secondary schools across England and Wales.

It found that many children tend to accept the risk of being exposed to sexual harm as a ‘normal part’ of being online, with girls particularly accustomed to receiving explicit images, with nine percent of participants said they had learnt about online sexual harm from personal experience.

A spokesman for the Inquiry said, one particular concern was that almost nine in 10 pupils said it was their own responsibility to keep themselves safe online, which can lead to harmful feelings of guilt and self-blame in the event of abuse, and also stop children from seeking the help and support they need.

The report also highlighted the existence of an online ‘approval culture’, exacerbated by celebrities and the media, which can lead young people to ignore privacy settings in order to increase their audience.

Researchers interviewed nine young people who had experienced online sexual harm about what more could be done to protect others. Some said education about online sexual harm should start in primary school, before children begin using social media, and continue regularly throughout their schooling.

Participants also identified issues that schools should be educating pupils on, including the range of ways online sexual harm occurs, harmful sexual behaviours by peers and links to broader issues of relationships and consent. While 83 % of secondary school pupils said online sites need to do more to keep children safe.

Dr Helen Beckett from the University of Bedfordshire said the online industry needs to be held to account around the promotion of safety on their sites. She said:

‘Rather than providing them with a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’, we need to properly engage with children and young people to understand the realities of their online lives and how we can better protect them.

‘Educating children about online sexual harm is only part of the solution. We need to challenge the harmful social norms and normalisation of sexual violence that allow such harm to flourish.

‘It also means holding the online industry to account around the promotion of safety within their sites, and their responsibilities to protect the children and young people who use them.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay


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