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Harmful sexual behaviour on digital media

Most internet abuse occurs in close vicinity to children and young people

Almost all children and young people have a smartphone or Ipad. Digital communication is often as important – if not more, at times – than physical meetings.

It is easy to get to know new people on the internet. A lot of children and young people find it fun and exciting; you can talk to people from all over the world, learn English, and exchange knowledge and ideas on shared interests. Many also use the arena to explore their sexuality, and find it a comfortable and safe environment. However, as with life offline, grey areas can also appear on the internet, blurring the lines between love, exploration and exploitation. In fear of having their access to the internet revoked, many children and young people will keep quiet, choosing not to discuss it with, or even tell, an adult.

Tragically, both the internet and phones are used to commit sexual assaults, as these make it easier to approach children and young people when adults aren’t looking. On the internet, social networks are used to trade and sell sexual favours in exchange for money, objects, attention and acknowledgement. Children and young people who experience neglect, bullying, harassment, assault, violence, challenges at school or other difficult things, can be more vulnerable and prone to irresponsible behaviour on the phone and the internet.

Sexual abuse on the internet can take several forms. Sexually inappropriate offers and inquiries over the phone and the internet (perhaps from a chat, a thread on a forum, a game or an SMS) can go from unkind jeering to serious sexual assault.

Harmful sexual behaviour online can be:
  • Mean and sexually harassing messages posted online or sent to a phone, i.e. “I want your hand on my cock”, “I want to see you naked”, “if you don’t have sex with me, I’ll spread rumours about you”
  • Threatening or forcing the sharing of photos and videos, or other types of threats i.e. “I’ll ass-fuck all the girls in class 9B. Then I’m gonna rape the teacher.”
  • Being exposed to sexualized language, or receive photos and videos containing sexualized or violent content
  • Trading and selling sexual favours
  • Downloading, possession of and sharing photos/videos containing assault against children, or sexualizing children
  • Being pressured to perform sexual acts in front of a phone or web-camera, for instance pose, strip, touch and intercourse-like acts

 

In the beginning, children and young people can be contacted via games, chat or social forums, before being manipulated or pressured into sex talk and sexual acts (grooming). Following, or combined with, online sexual assaults, are sometimes physical (hands on) assaults.

 

Exposure and self-exposure

Children and young people are motivated by various things when they send nude photos of themselves. In some instances it is a declaration of trust between couples, or “harmless fun” between friends. Quite a few say sending and receiving nude photos from someone you know is part of today’s youth culture. They choose to not read too deeply into it, and delete the photos without involving adults. However, in other instances they could be tricked or pressured by someone they trust, someone posing as another person, or someone planning to manipulate them using the photos.

 

The feeling of anonymity can make it easier to undress and take risks you don’t normally take.

 

A survey by the Norwegian Media Authority (2020) shows 46 percent of 13-18-year-olds have been asked to send or share a nude photo of themselves. The percentage increases by age and is highest among girls. 42 percent were asked by complete strangers online.

  • 1 out of 10 have, over the course of 2019, sent or shared nude photos of themselves. Of these, 1 out of 10 (13 percent) were paid for it.
  • 4 out of 10 have received nude photos from others. The percentage increases by age and is highest among girls. Of those who received nude photos, 4 out of 10 (40 percent) received them from strangers online.
  • 1 out of 10 have shared a nude photo of themselves in 2019.
  • 3 out of 10 have received sexual comments online during 2019. The percentage receiving sexual comments online increases noticeably by age.
Sharing sexualized personal content puts the child at risk

Since both photos and videos are easy to share, often without consent, this type of exposure puts children and young people at great risk. Sexualized photos are used to threaten, manipulate, frighten, financially blackmail, or pressure children into sending more explicit photos. Such photos are often used as blackmail or a threatening device in the manipulation of children; trying to meet children physically with the intent of sexually assaulting them. A child can be told that in the event they do not show up, the photo/video will be sent to their parents, friends, and shared online by the offender. For children and young people this is a huge burden to bear, and most do not tell their parents about it out of a sense of guilt and shame.

Sexualized photos and videos can also be used to harass or bully someone after a break-up, or if a conflict occurs – sometimes this is referred to as “revenge porn”.

 

Read about managing harmful sexual behaviour online