Online Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment thrives across digital platforms, with the internet, and online social media platforms more specifically, providing additional spaces for unwanted sexual behaviours. So, what exactly is online sexual harassment? 

by KatieTyrrell 4 years ago

Sexual harassment or unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature is something as a society we can no longer ignore, it is all around us, and it is time to do something about it. The recent #MeToo campaign, in which many brave individuals stepped forward to share their story and end the silence, evidences the power of society in creating movements toward supporting and empowering survivors of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment also thrives across digital platforms, with the internet, and online social media platforms more specifically, providing additional spaces for unwanted sexual behaviours. So, what exactly is online sexual harassment? 

  • If someone has shared a nude image of you with someone else without your permission
  • If you have received unwanted sexual comments on an Instagram post or someone random has sent you that unwanted dic pic over Tinder (F.Y.I.  A picture of genitals out of context is really not attractive!)
  • Someone has pressured you to share images with them online by threatening you
  • You’re being bullied based on your sexuality

These are just a few examples.  There are multiple forms of online sexual harassment as you can probably imagine, all of which are forms of abuse and sexual violence with devastating consequences for the individual.

So, think about it next time you see or hear others discussing a ‘dic pic’, a nude image of a girl; or the next time you see mean comments to someone about their sexual preferences… What could you do to make sure that person isn’t re-victimised?  Isn’t targeted for a part of their self-identity?  Isn’t ‘slut shamed’? 

Recent findings from the deSHAME project undertaken by Childnet and other organisations in 2017, suggest that young people across different countries are frequently exposed to and experience online sexual harassment.  The research highlights the importance of being non-judgemental, empowering young people and encouraging safe and healthy relationships both online and offline. It also talks about how young people feel about responding to online sexual harassment and the barriers to reporting, as well as their experiences of coercion, threats, sexualised bullying and unwanted sexual comments.  

Feeling coerced and pressured into sending images is a form of sexual harassment. The deSHAME research highlights that 1 in 10 young people who took part in the study had a boyfriend or girlfriend who had pressured them into sending nude images. What can be really difficult is thinking about how to respond to this type of pressure, as well as unwanted sexts or images (as I said before, if you’ve seen one dic pic, you’ve seen them all!). If you’re struggling for a witty response, you can use apps like Zipit, developed by Childline to think one up for you! The app works by enabling you to respond to unwanted sexual contact with a cheeky GIF, so if someone pulls the ‘come on babe, send us a picture’ and you’re really not down for that you can come back with… ‘Here’s a picture of my junk’ plastered all over a rather large image of a landfill site, or if that’s not really your thing, simply Googling responding to unwanted sexts comes out with some absolute corkers, to divert unwanted conversation by injecting a bit of light-hearted humour! 

If you have experienced online sexual harassment, there are a number of different ways in which you can access support. Reporting may feel scary, but these organisations are here to help you:

  • If you are over the age of 18 and have had a nude or sexual image shared of you without your consent, contact the Revenge Porn Helpline 
  • If you are under the age of 18 and someone online has a nude or sexual image of you shared without your consent, contact the Internet Watch Foundation 
  • If you have received unwanted messages of a sexual nature or comments, which are sexual and abusive, follow the appropriate steps provided by the social media platform or website for reporting content. The Childnet website: has some really good information about how to report unwanted content on apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.

If you would like to find out more information about young people’s experience of online sexual harassment, read the Childnet report: Young people’s experiences of online sexual harassment: A cross-country report from project deSHAME (2017)

The Zipit Childline App can be downloaded for free via the Apple app store, or via Google Play!