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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Learning about online sexual harm

Enhancing online safety: non-school-based interventions

Although the research primarily focused on school-based education, participants were also asked what else they thought could be done to help protect children and young people from online sexual harm. Participants recognised that tackling online sexual harm requires action not just by schools, but on many fronts.

1. The role of parents and carers: participants identified an important role for parents and carers in protecting children and young people from online sexual harm, but recognised they needed access to better information and support to do this.

I think as well as teaching young people about online safety they should actually teach young adults, adults [and] parents, because then they can warn their own children about it. Because honestly, I wish that my mum and dad spoke to me about it, and it would have saved me a lot of stress.

16-year-old female interviewee

Participants recognised that the ability to have these conversations was not just dependent on parents’ knowledge, but also on the nature of parent-child relationships.

There were differing views on the legitimacy of parental monitoring and control, in light of the importance of children’s and young people’s privacy and independence. Achieving an appropriate balance between these concerns was recognised to be difficult and context-specific, dependent on factors such as the age of the child and the nature of the parent-child relationship.

2. The role of the online industry: participants identified a clear role for the online industry to play in protecting children and young people from online sexual harm, suggesting that these responsibilities were not currently being fulfilled.

“I think they [online companies] have a major responsibility, and they don’t do it, they don’t think about it at all. On Instagram, I’ve seen no posts about safety.”

15-year-old female interviewee

Participants identified a series of actions that those responsible for online platforms could take to enhance the safety of children and young people who used them. These included both ‘designing out’ risk through better privacy controls, and ‘designing in’ protective functions through better monitoring and reporting options. Suggestions included:

  • embedding warnings and advice for users to read when signing up to social media platformsor other apps;
  • improving enforcement of age restrictions;
  • improving privacy settings, including the use of default privacy settings when setting up an account; and
  • enhanced moderation, more accessible reporting options, and stronger action when concerns are reported.

3. The need for societal change: participants identified a range of ways in which their online experiences, including exposure to sexual harm, were negatively influenced by norms and pressures in society. While having fewer concrete suggestions as to how these could be addressed, participants did note the importance of wider society, including the media and celebrity culture, taking an active role to tackle them. The two main issues identified at this broader societal level were:

  • harmful gender norms, and the associated normalisation of sexual violence. These were observed to influence both the risk of, and responses to, online sexual harm; and
  • the undue influence of the media, celebrity culture and an online ‘approval culture’. These were observed to make children and young people less likely to use privacy settings, thus increasing their potential exposure to individuals who may sexually harm them.
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