Tackling online sexual harassment – the start of Project deSHAME II

Posted on 25 September 2019

We are delighted to announce the start of Project deSHAME II! In this blog Maithreyi Rajeshkumar looks at the start of this new project, what it will cover and why it is needed.

Project deSHAME was conceived to address the lack of understanding around technology-facilitated peer-on-peer sexual harassment, as well underreporting amongst children when experiencing or witnessing it. The project aimed to increase reporting of online sexual harassment among minors, an emerging area of gendered violence against children, through developing and evaluating youth-led and multi-sector interventions in three countries (Denmark, Hungary and UK), and to transfer this learning throughout Europe.

It was key to the project that children’s rights, voice and participation was centred in both the approach and delivery of the project. Since the project began we have carried out the following in the UK, Denmark and Hungary:

  • Published research on peer-based online sexual harassment, defining the issue, outlining behaviours, impact and barriers children have to reporting.
  • Established Advisory Boards in each country including industry, government, teaching unions/staff, police, charities and helplines.
  • Established a Youth Advisory Board of 10 in each country.
  • Developed a practical Campaign Toolkit – ‘Step Up, Speak Up’, which includes education, training and awareness materials for multi-sector prevention and response strategies. High levels of impact demonstrated through piloting resources in schools.
  • Designed innovative youth participation approaches to provide safe and inclusive spaces; facilitate children to form and express their views; and ensure that their views are listened to and acted upon. In all three countries young people have informed and shaped our resources, ensuring that the campaign toolkit and training for professionals truly reflects what they need. One of the campaign films that we created with the Youth Advisory Board shows the power and insight young people have.

We are now continuing the project to reach children aged 9-12, as well as parents and carers.

The scale of the problem

Many children and young people across Europe experience online sexual harassment, taking place in a peer-to-peer context across digital platforms, resulting in serious and long-term impacts on victims’ mental health and wellbeing, as well as on the wider peer group. Girls in particular are more likely to face negative consequences.

In Project deSHAME I, our research with over 3,000 young people aged 13-17 years across Denmark, Hungary and the UK found that in the previous year:

  • 9% had received sexual threats online from peers (29% witnessed this happening to their peers)
  • 6% had their nude or nearly nude image shared with other people without their permission (41% witnessed this)
  • 24% had received unwanted sexual messages (with girls twice as likely to experience this)

Children and young people are also unlikely to report online sexual harassment. 39% of the 13-17s we surveyed said they would ‘ignore it’ if they experienced online sexual harassment with 52% saying they would be too embarrassed to seek help.  

Parents and carers play a key role in protecting children, however we know that children are unlikely to seek help, with less than half of 13-17s saying they would speak to a parent or carer if they experienced online sexual harassment.

Our research with teachers, helpline workers and other professionals also found that children aged 9-12 were also experiencing and witnessing this kind of harassment.

Our aim for Project deSHAME II:

  • Prevent and respond to online sexual harassment, a form of cyber sexual violence, among children. This will include raising vital awareness of the issue including promoting the findings of our research amongst 13-17 years olds, as well as our resources.
  • Pilot educational interventions to meet gaps in provision for children aged 9-12 years, as they transition into teenagers, ensuring children are being educated on issues of consent and respect online.
  • Empower and engage parents/carers with children of all ages to prevent, support and respond to online sexual harassment. This will include specialised information for foster carers.
  • Scale the impact of the project in Denmark, Hungary and UK and to transfer learning throughout Europe.

How we develop our resources and its impact

The Childnet team working on this project includes trained educators and experts in online safety education, youth participation, and resource development, as well as experienced project management, research and communication experts. The team talks to thousands of children, parents and carers and school staff every year, and has developed connections, experience and expertise working within education.

77% of 13-17s who took part in the pilot phase 1 say that they were confident they would recognise online sexual harassment if they saw it, with 71% saying the activities made them understand why consent is important. There was an 11 % increase in talking to teachers and a 14% increase in likelihood of reporting to a social network after the activities were delivered. Phase 1 resources were aimed at educators and law enforcement and we see an important need extend this to also target parents and carers as well as to support teachers to reach 9-12 year olds.

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