Sexual harassment, both online and offline, is never ‘just a joke’

Posted on 31 March 2021

As an organisation our mission is to make the internet a safe and great place for children to be. This week ‘Everyone’s Invited’, a campaign to eradicate rape culture, has seen young people sharing testimonies,  their experiences of sexual harassment and violence both online and offline, shining a light on these behaviours in schools.

At Childnet we see it as a key priority to provide those working with young people with the tools and resources they need to respond to and proactively prevent online sexual harassment and violence .

We know that issues like this can be very sensitive and difficult to talk about sometimes, but we see children and young people, across the world, campaigning and reaching out for further education and resources in schools to help tackle sexual harassment. As always, we look to listen, learn, and meaningfully consult young people to ensure that their voices inform the work that we do.

Anisa, a member of our Youth Advisory Board for Project deSHAME said ‘This is an opportunity to put change into practice, and move forward using what we hear from young people.’

What is online sexual harassment?

We define online sexual harassment as unwanted sexual conduct on any digital platform and is recognised as a form of sexual violence. It 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.

The experience and impact of online sexual harassment is unique to the individual and can be felt both in the short-term but also can have long-term impacts on mental health and wellbeing. Long term impacts can be amplified because of re-victimisation if content is re-shared online, or because the initial trauma of the incident resurfaces much later.

It is important to recognise that there is no single way that a young person may experience online sexual harassment and that it might also affect others who witness it.

What can educators do if a report is made to them?

With the recent press coverage and conversations around Everyone’s Invited your school may see an increase in the number of pupils making reports about online sexual harassment. This does not necessarily mean incidents are increasing - it’s may be that more young people are feeling ready to come forward.

Educators play a very important role in responding to and educating about online sexual harassment. We have developed a guide for teachers on this issue as well as for school leadership.  As a trusted adult, teachers may be the first person a child goes to if something goes wrong or if they are worried about something online. It is important that is a pupil comes to you with a problem they face online that you remain calm and do not place blame on the young person.

If a pupil makes a disclosure to you, thank them for doing the right thing by telling you, and acknowledge any challenges they have overcome to do so. Explain what you have to do next to make sure they are safe (e.g. telling another adult, making notes.) Let them know they can ask you any questions.

If you don’t have the answers straight away, explain that you can find these out together. After the incident has been followed up, put in place a plan to keep supporting the pupil concerned. Online content has the potential to be re-shared or reappear after the original incident. The child may also need on-going emotional support to help them process their feelings about the incident.


Resources available to educate about sexual harassment online.

Through our work with young people we have seen a need and desire for resources addressing online sexual harassment from a young age, as well as for teens. It is important that these resources are used to challenge these behaviours in a supportive setting.

  • Just a joke?
    Lesson plans, quick activities, a quiz and teaching guide designed to explore problematic online sexual behaviour with 9-12 year olds. 
  • Step Up, Speak Up!
    A practical campaign toolkit to address the issue of online sexual harassment amongst young people aged 13-17 years.
  • Myth Vs Reality – PSHE Toolkit
    A practical online safety PSHE toolkit with films and lesson plans to explore online issues with young people aged 11-14. The toolkit explores the topics of online pornography, healthy relationships and body image.

Resources for parents and carers

We have information and advice for parents and carers with children of all ages, these can be found here:


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