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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Learning about online sexual harm

The significance of the online environment

Participants identified how the dynamics of online spaces presented young people with distinct risks compared with face-to-face interaction. Specific dynamics included the more anonymous nature of the internet, the disinhibition in online communication, and the global networked nature of possible unsolicited contact:

If I saw a creepy man walking down the road, I’d walk the other way, while if a person messaged me, they had no profile picture and then they seemed normal, I’d engage in conversation because, you know, they seem normal, they don’t look dangerous or harmful. So, it’s like that, the way you see people, the way you view them, there’s two different ways. 

14-year-old female interviewee

A number of focus group participants and interviewees also identified specific protective aspects of the online environment. These included the potential ease, for some, of using ‘blocking’ or privacy settings in response to online sexual bullying or harassment. In other examples, online platforms were cited as a potentially helpful route to disclose experiences of harm and access support.

You mostly end up telling them [friends] online – it’s a lot easier to do it online because you don’t have to see their face and you don’t feel judged or you don’t know if they’re judging you. I told my friend online – it was a lot easier that way.

13-year-old female interviewee


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