Step Up, Speak Up! New resources to address peer based online sexual harassment with 13-17s

Posted on 26 March 2019

Childnet’s Education and Youth Engagement Manager Ellie Proffitt discusses how you can use Childnet’s latest resource to raise awareness of online sexual harassment amongst young people and help to increase reporting.

What is online sexual harassment?

Online sexual harassment is unwanted sexual conduct on any digital platform and it 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).

The Step Up, Speak Up! Toolkit specifically focuses on peer-to-peer online sexual harassment taking place between young people.

Why is online sexual harassment important to address?

We all know how important the internet is for young people. It supports their friendships, sparks new relationships, provides entertainment, delivers news and information, and gives them a creative outlet. However, for many young people, it can also offer opportunities to be embarrassed, hurt, judged, humiliated and harassed.

We are all familiar with the term ‘cyberbullying’ but how many of those cyberbullying instances with the young people you work with had a sexual element to them? How many involved relationships breaking down, revenge, rumours or gossip about sexual behaviour or images? How many instances were actually a form of sexual harassment?

We know that peer based online sexual harassment is happening between young people online, but is so rarely spoken about. From research conducted with over 1,500 UK teens we found:

  • Just over half (51%) said they have witnessed people their age sharing nude or nearly nude images of someone they know in the last year.
  • Almost half (47%) said that they have witnessed people their age editing photos of someone to make them sexual, for example putting their face on a pornographic image or placing sexual emojis over them.
  • 4 in 5 (80%) had witnessed people their age using terms like ‘sket’ or ‘slut’ to describe girls in a mean way online in the last year.
  • Over two-thirds (72%) had witnessed people using homophobic or transphobic language online.

Online sexual harassment is closely linked to consent, healthy relationships, peer pressure and self-esteem. The research we gathered clearly shows the prevalence of unhealthy online behaviours, and the need for further support and education around these core topics in order to help safeguard young people’s mental health, emotional well-being and ability to express themselves freely online.

From September 2020 all secondary schools in England will be required to teach Relationships and Sex Education. Secondary schools in Scotland and Wales are already required to make provision for Personal and Social Education under their national curriculums. The Step Up, Speak Up! Toolkit provides a range of teaching resources to help meet these requirements in an interactive and practical way.

Taking a closer look at the resources

The Step Up Speak Up! resources encompass three main toolkits designed for different audiences; a teaching toolkit with activities to run with young people, guidance and training for schools and professionals, and information for the police (launching in April 2019).

This blog focuses on the teaching toolkit that includes the following:

  • 4 lesson plans- These cover ground rules, recognising, responding and reporting, with additional quick activities
  • A teaching guide – With advice on how to deliver the sessions, what to do about disclosures and more
  • An assembly presentation and guide – Looking at different scenarios and reporting routes, with a guide to help educators deliver the presentation
  • A peer led workshop – Which your students can use to educate their peers around online sexual harassment
  • 2 animated films – These give short pieces of advice about recognising and responding to online sexual harassment
  • Posters – to display in your education/youth setting
  • A quiz – tests students’ knowledge on how the law applies to online behaviour

How can you use these resources within your school or youth setting?

These resources could be incorporated in to your school’s scheme of work for RSE, PSHE or PSE. They address core themes such as healthy relationships, consent and peer pressure, and would complement other lessons around similar themes.

The lesson plans can be delivered as they are written, in four 1-hour sessions, or broken up further to allow extra time for discussion and reflection. The quick activities provided also allow for a more flexible learning style. There are different activities such as an interactive online quiz, analysing research results and comparing news stories that could be done in anything from 30 minutes to a more long-term project.

The assembly presentation could either be used as an introduction to the topic or as a recap session to deliver after the activities. Additionally, there is a peer led workshop that uses the guise of drama to allow young people to learn from one another and come to a shared understanding of how victims of online sexual harassment can be supported and seek help.

All the activities are designed to be practical and easy to use. We heard from teachers in focus groups that they know this is an important issue to talk about, but had questions about what to deliver, how to deliver it, and how to support young people who may be victims or bystanders of online sexual harassment themselves. We also created the Teaching Guide that takes educators through a range of points to consider and practical teaching strategies to help empower them to pick this resource up and use it in the classroom.

All activities are also designed to be inclusive. Each activity in the lesson plans has suggestions to adapt them to use with students with additional learning needs. Similarly, each activity comes with a ‘further challenge’ to further develop the thinking of those students who may have previously done work in this area, or who are at the higher end of the 13-17 target age.

“The real life-based scenarios were audience appropriate and it led to in depth discussion and debate about various aspects of online sexual harassment that may not be obvious at first glance. This helps the person doing the activity engage with the content more meaningfully by questioning their individual biases and, through peer discussion, hear about alternatives ways to look at the scenario.” (Afua, Youth Advisory Board)

What will young people learn from this resource?

The teaching resources aim to increase awareness of this issue amongst young people, and to encourage them to recognise it does not have to be accepted as part of ‘being a teenager.’ By raising awareness, the resources also seek to encourage more young people to ‘speak up’ about this behaviour and increase the reporting of it. Young people will learn how online sexual harassment can make people feel, what is classed as online sexual harassment and what this can depend on, and how consent plays into this form of behaviour. They will also learn about victim-blaming and how this can contribute to online sexual harassment, and alternative strategies they can take to support victims. They will also learn more about the reporting process, and educators are provided with an opportunity to clarify the reporting process to them, and explain the positives that can come out of speaking up.

Other useful information

View the full Step Up, Speak Up! Toolkit.

We have created a Hot Topic for professionals working with children on this issue

The Professionals Online Safety Helpline (POSH) can assist professionals and volunteers who work with children and young people with any concern about online safety.

Report Harmful Content can help guide you through the reporting process and offer appropriate advice.

If you would like to be kept up to date with Step Up, Speak Up! and Project deSHAME then please sign up to our mailing list.

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