Online Sexual Harassment

The term online sexual harassment covers a range of unwanted sexual behaviours that occur online. These could happen on any online platform, such as social media, gaming or messaging apps, and could include content such as photos, videos, posts, webpages, messages or fake profiles.

This type of behaviour can be used to harass or bully individuals or groups of people in a sexualised way, and can be shared publicly or privately. For example, gossip about someone’s sexual orientation may be posted publicly online, or someone may be privately messaged with threats about their nude images being shared.

Whilst online sexual harassment can happen between adults and children, this hot topic focuses on harassment taking place between young people. 

If you are concerned about sexual harassment taking place between an adult and a child online, report this to CEOP.

Childnet is currently working on a project to raise awareness about online sexual harassment, and to encourage more young people to report it.


  • What type of behaviours does online sexual harassment include? Open or Close

    Any type of behaviour that uses sexual content to harass or bully someone online could be classed as online sexual harassment. Even if the harassment was intended as a joke, or was a misunderstanding, it is the experience of the victim that defines whether it is sexual harassment or not.

    “Someone has made a fake account of my friend, and have been commenting mean things on other people’s photos." Girl, 13

     “I have experienced lots of homophobic comments after coming out, and have heard other people use them as an insult.” Gender unknown, age unknown

     “There was a girl in a photo cuddling a different boy to who she was going out with and it’s got sent around 2 different schools and everyone was screenshotting it and posted it to their story’s saying “slut” or “slag” or “cheater” or “she can’t keep her hands off boys lol” Girl, 13 years

  • How can it make people feel? Open or Close

    Sexual harassment that happens online can make a person feel any of the following:

    • Threatened or scared
    • Exploited or coerced
    • That their dignity is violated
    • Humiliated or degraded
    • Shamed or judged
    • Upset
    • Sexualised
    • Discriminated against because of their gender or sexual orientation
    • Feel guilty or that they are to blame

    Online sexual harassment can affect different people in different ways. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel. People who have been a target of online sexual harassment may also be worried about the threat of content resurfacing online in the future.

    As well people who experience online sexual harassment, anyone who witnesses it happening to someone else online may also be affected.

  • Is online sexual harassment always illegal? Open or Close

    No. Not all online sexual harassment will be illegal or a crime but is important to remember that this is unwanted sexual behaviour. Whether the incident is illegal or not, any unwanted behaviour that affects someone else in a negative way is never acceptable.

  • When does online sexual harassment break the law? Open or Close

    Some instances of online sexual harassment may break the law.

    Impersonating other people online, sending threatening messages and re-sharing other people’s nude images are some types of behaviours that can break the law.

    If the police became involved, they would need to know all the details of the incident in order to decide how to proceed with the case.

  • Do nude images break the law? Open or Close

    If any incident involves someone under the age of 18 creating an explicit photo or video of themselves or someone else under 18 then they have potentially created an indecent image of a child. By sending this content on to another person, they have distributed an indecent image of a child. By receiving content of this kind from another young person, they are then in possession of an indecent image of a child.

    The National Police Chiefs' Council of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in this type of image sharing should not face prosecution as first time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure that the young people involved are not at risk. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are may have a higher chance of legal consequences, but the police have publicly stated they want to avoid prosecution unless absolutely necessary.

  • It happened...what should I do next? Open or Close
    1. Talk to someone: it can be hard asking for help, but in a situation like this it is really important. Family members, school staff and your friends all want to make sure you are safe. In order for them to help you they need to know the whole story. Let them know what has happened, what you are worried about and what you need help with.
    2. Use the reporting tools: these tools are there to help you. Sexual harassment is never acceptable – online or offline. In order to deal with it, online platforms such as social media and gaming networks need to know where it is and why you think it should be removed. If the content breaks terms and conditions, it should be taken down.
    3. Will I get in trouble with the police? As outlined above, the laws around online behaviour are there to protect people. Any incident that is reported to police should be treated on a case by case basis, and should take into account the whole story leading up to the incident.


Who can help me?

  • Parents and carers: in order for them to support you they need to know something has happened. Let them know how you are feeling – you may feel worried or embarrassed at first, but all they want to do is help you.
  • Teacher or trusted adult at school
  • The local police: if you think a law has been broken, for example, if the incident involves nude images of someone under 18.
  • Remember, you can always speak in confidence to Childline or call them on 0800 11 11
  • If you think an adult has been involved in the harassment, especially with any coercion or blackmail, report this to CEOP.