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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Learning about online sexual harm

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Participants identified a need for school-based education to include:

1. The diversity of ways in which online sexual harm occurs: participants indicated that their education about online sexual harm, to date, had presented only a partial picture about the nature of risk, often focusing on stereotypical ‘stranger danger’ images of perpetrators and abuse. This meant they struggled to identify other types of online sexual harm. Participants specifically highlighted the need for education to discuss the potential for abuse from individuals known to children and young people, including peers, friends and intimate partners.

Obviously they can tell you, ‘Don’t talk to strangers, don’t let strangers talk to you’, and stuff, but they should also talk about people that you know and trust, or you think you trust, because they might be more of, you might be more of a target to them because they think you trust them.

15-year-old female interviewee

2. Potential harmful sexual behaviours by young people: a number of participants observed how school-based education about online sexual harm needs to move beyond a focus on the behaviours of potential victims, to include consideration of young people’s responsibility not to sexually harm others.

They always say, ‘Don’t send pictures because they might get spread’, but the only problem with that is they never say to people, ‘Don’t spread them’.

14–16-year-old-female focus group participant

3. Links between online sexual harm and broader issues of sex, relationships and consent: participants described engaging with a diverse range of challenges and potential risks online. This included sexual interactions that could be either appropriate or abusive, depending on the context. Focus group participants expressed a desire for more nuanced and reflective education that acknowledges their developing sexuality and helps them navigate what this means in the online environment. Participants also highlighted a desire for education to contextualise the issue of online sexual harm within discussions about broader forms of sexual harassment and abuse.

4. The impact of online sexual harm: there was a clear desire for education to explore the impact of online sexual harm, supporting children and young people to understand the potentially far-reaching practical and emotional consequences of abuse. This was particularly emphasised by interviewees with personal experiences of online sexual harm who wanted others to understand the impact that it can have.

5. How to respond to, and report, concerns: participants observed how some children and young people will encounter online sexual harm, regardless of efforts to prevent this. Given this, they noted the need for education to address what to do if online sexual harm occurs, including providing information about available resources, where to report it, and sources of support. Some participants also highlighted the need for education to address potential barriers to reporting, such as embarrassment, shame and fear of others’ reactions, and a desire for help around how to deal with the emotional impact of abuse.

“I think that they should teach us about how we should deal with these sexual harm problems. Like they tell us about it, but not how to deal with these problems ... ” “And not just telling a teacher or a mate. Just tell us how to deal with it mentally.”

14–16-year-old female focus group participants

 

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