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Sexual violence and sexual harassment can occur online and offline (both physically and verbally), and are never acceptable. The following information is from Childnet International and offers support to parents, schools and young people.

90% of 16-24 year olds and 69% of 12-15 year olds own a smartphone, giving them the ability to quickly and easily create and share photos and videos. This increase in the speed and ease of sharing imagery has brought concerns about young people producing and sharing sexual imagery of themselves. This can expose them to risks, particularly if the imagery is shared further, including embarrassment, bullying and increased vulnerability to sexual exploitation. Producing and sharing sexual images of under 18s is also illegal.

Many people are unclear on the difference between harassment and abuse, both in schools and in adult life. Sexual harassment can happen in an educational or social situation and involves making unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. Sexual abuse is being persuaded or forced into undesired sexual activity. It’s important to note that this can happen to both males and females; sexual abuse and harassment works both ways. It can be committed by someone who is close to you, even a friend or family member.

When talking about online sexual harassment, we typically think of the offender as an adult. But that is by no means always the case. Both with respect to physical and so-called ‘digital’ offences, young people are often harassed by other young people.

In a recent survey by a children’s charity:

1 in 10 (10%) of survey respondents aged 13-17 reported being sent sexual threats online (e.g. rape threats) in the last year.

Almost 1 in 4 (23%) of survey respondents aged 13-17 witnessed young people secretly taking sexual images of someone and sharing them online (‘creep shots’) in the last year.

1 in 12 survey respondents (8%) aged 13-17 years reported that they have shared a nude or nearly nude image of someone else without their permission in the last year.

Almost half (47%) of survey respondents aged 13- 17 witnessed people their age editing photos of their peers to make them sexual (e.g putting their face on a pornographic image or adding sexual emojis).

Over a third (33%) of survey respondents aged 13-17 witnessed young people sharing images or videos of someone they know doing sexual acts in the last year.

What we all need to do to support our young people is:

Make it clear that sexual violence and sexual harassment are never acceptable and will never be tolerated – it is not an inevitable part of growing up.

Not to dismiss or tolerate sexual violence or harassment as “banter” or “part of growing up”. Banter is only banter if both parties are enjoying it. Once it becomes offensive and hurtful, it’s not “banter” anymore.

Challenge behaviour such as grabbing bottoms, breasts and genitalia. If we see this on TV, movies or youtube etc., we need to point out how wrong it is and tackle the issue head on.

Understand that sexual violence and sexual harassment can be driven by wider societal factors, such as everyday sexist stereotypes and language. Tolerating any of these behaviours risks ‘normalising’ them – they are potentially criminal acts.

It is an offence to possess, distribute, show and make indecent images of children. • The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales) defines a child, for the purposes of indecent images, as anyone under the age of 18.

For further information on Sexual Harassment and young people, please see the following sites.