Young girls are ‘bombarded’ with sexual images online

6th December, 2021 8:50 am

Young people face a crisis of online sexual violence, with unsolicited sexual images becoming “dangerously normalised”, academics warn.

A study involving young people aged 12 to 18 found that most girls had received an image of male genitalia, often from adult men who were strangers.

More than half of the boys and girls who received unwanted sexual content online or had their image shared without their consent did nothing. A quarter told a friend. Only 2 per cent reported the incident to school authorities, 5 per cent to parents and 17 per cent to social media companies.

Girls also felt pressured to “trade” intimate images with boys who sent pictures unsolicited. They were then mocked or bullied when their photos were shared among classmates.

The report by academics from University College London, Kent University, the School of Sexuality Education in London and the Association of School and College Leaders said that children received sexual images almost from the moment they set up accounts with Snapchat, Instagram or TikTok.

It recommended that tech companies should keep a record of images, make privacy settings clearer and easier to change and do more to verify users’ ages and identities.

It also advised that schools change their guidance to “remove any victim-blaming rhetoric”, such as teaching pupils that they should “resist pressure” to have sex. An Ofsted report into sexual harassment in schools was welcomed but the report said that it failed to look at how sexual harassment cultures were fostered in schools, such as through punitive uniform policies that focused on girls’ bodies.

The report added that parents should not have an overly negative and disciplinary approach to the use of technology: “Children often avoid telling their parents about their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse because they worry about being punished or having their technology taken away.”

The study involved 480 young people from across the UK — 366 via an online survey and 144 in focus groups.

Professor Jessica Ringrose, lead author of the report, said: “Young people in the UK are facing a crisis of online sexual violence. Despite these young people saying they felt disgusted, embarrassed and confused about the sending and receiving of non-consensual images, they rarely want to talk about their online experiences for fear of victim-blaming and worry that reporting will make matters worse.

“Although the non-consensual sending and sharing of sexual images may be common and feel ‘normal’, it is extremely harmful.”

The report said: “Unfortunately, this form of image-based sexual harassment was often experienced on a regular, sometimes daily basis. The majority of the unwanted images were sent using Snapchat, which allows for young people to be inundated with this content if their privacy settings are off — contributing to a normalisation of these harmful behaviours over time.”

A spokeswoman for Meta, the parent company of Instagram, said: “Keeping young users safe is our top priority, and we have measures in place to protect them. This includes defaulting young people into private accounts, preventing adults from messaging anyone under 18 who doesn’t follow them, and making it harder for potentially suspicious accounts to find young people. If anyone is sent an unsolicited explicit image we strongly encourage them to report it to us and the police.”

A Snapchat spokesman said: “Any sexual harassment is deplorable and we work with the police and industry partners like Childnet to keep it off Snapchat. The app is private by default — you need to accept someone before they can message you — and we add extra protections for younger users to prevent strangers identifying and contacting them.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said that the education and culture secretaries met executives from the tech giants last week to discuss protecting children online and that children were taught how to recognise and report abuse. “The curriculum covers how pupils should report concerns and seek advice when they suspect or know that something is wrong.”


Source: The Times

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