Guidance for law enforcement working with children

Why should law enforcement know about online sexual harassment?

Law enforcement professionals play a crucial role in safeguarding young people who experience, or are at risk of experiencing, online sexual harassment or exploitation. Research reveals 51% of UK youth aged 13-17 years have witnessed their peers sharing nude or nearly nude images of someone they know online. 10% said they have received sexual threats online. 39% have witnessed people setting up 'bait out' pages in order for their peers to share sexual images or gossip. 

Early and effective interventions are vital if police want to protect children and young people from sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse. Alongside other agencies, schools, parents and carers, police forces have an important part toplay to empower young people to feel they can speak up about online sexual harassment. We need to help them overcome the barriers, of embarrassment, fear and blame, and help ensure that those they turn to (whether it is their friends, parents, carers, family, school or police) can offer the support they need. We also need to work together to change the culture that enables online sexual harassment to surface, and show young people what positive, healthy online interactions look like. All young people have a right to be safe, and free to express themselves in digital spaces.

How has this guidance been developed?

This guidance has been written from extensive research conducted with young people as well as through consultation with police forces, including case study analysis. The research shows high levels of online sexual harassment occurring in a peer-to-peer context with far-reaching impact on victims.

Project deSHAME has been conducted in consultation with its Expert Advisory Board which consists of NPCC, CEOP, Department of Education, Home Office, Government Equalities Office, Facebook, Google, NASUWT, NEU, NSPCC/Childline, Kent County Council and the Professionals Online Safety Helpline (POSH).

Who is this guidance for?

This guidance is to support all law enforcement professionals to respond to cases of peer-on-peer sexual harassment and exploitation online. It will be particularly useful for CSE leads to disseminate throughout the police workforce so that first responders also have the necessary knowledge to identify and triage cases of online sexual harassment.

What will this guidance cover?

  • Defining what online sexual harassment is and the behaviours it covers in a peer to peer context
  • Role of technology in facilitating online sexual harassment
  • Impact of online sexual harassment
  • Effective responses to victims and perpetrators
  • Improving multi-agency working
  • Increasing reporting amongst young people
  • Ongoing support for victims, perpetrators and families