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Study on online violence against girls: systemic education for young people, parents and teachers is needed

"Girls and women are more vulnerable to violence online and in person. When I walk down the street behind a woman, I notice that she always looks back, while guys don't. I also look to see if someone is walking behind me." Primary school girl, 13 years old.

Technological advances and the increasing use of the internet and social media have made users increasingly vulnerable to online violence. This form of violence disproportionately - and sometimes more traumatically - affects women and girls; according to a global survey by Plan International (2020), 58 % of girls and young women have experienced online violence. The most common types of online violence against women and girls are stalking, hate speech, impersonation (by creating fake profiles), blackmail and sexual harassment. The TRACeD project, which aims to tackle online violence against girls and young women, thus demonstrates the undeniable need to raise awareness and support victims. Qualitative research was carried out in four countries (Slovenia, Greece, Italy and Cyprus) between May and August 2022 with four different groups of participants; parents, teachers, young girls, teenagers and students, and professionals working with women victims of violence. In Slovenia, the research was carried out by the Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana.

The majority of girls who participated in the Slovenian part of the study felt that their gender makes them more vulnerable to online violence than boys, and that they are often judged by their peers based on their appearance, which makes them feel uncomfortable. A 15-year-old girl said: "A lot of times they ask me for naked pictures and I just block them. Boys I know, but also strangers, especially on Snapchat. I feel like boys, men, see us, girls and women, only as a body, not as a personality. It hurts me and it makes me angry."

The exchange of nude or naked photographs is widespread among young people, which can also escalate into forms of violence. "Girls are more affected, most boys take advantage of them by getting girls to send them pictures of their bodies, sexually exploiting them in different ways, and this also turns into other forms of violence, psychological and sexual", said a 14-year-old primary school student, while a 13-year-old stressed: "Girls are more exposed. Many times, boys ask for naked pictures from girls over the internet. When they get them, they take screenshots and send them to others."

The study found that children in schools do not receive enough training on how to identify and deal with online violence, and that teaching skills for safe use of the internet is not sufficiently integrated into the curriculum. Many girls feel that they cannot confide their problems to their parents or teachers, so they tend to keep them to themselves. It has been shown that many girls are afraid of criticism and reproach and therefore choose not to confide sexual incidents related to online violence to parents, peers or public authorities. A 15-year-old girl said: "I find it difficult to talk to my parents, teachers, relatives about it. They wouldn't believe, they wouldn't understand. I don't dare to talk about it, I never told at home, to my parents."

On the other hand, while parents are aware of online violence, they find the phenomenon challenging to tackle and would like to see more proactive engagement and education on these issues in schools. They also acknowledged that it is difficult to talk to children about sexual issues. A 15-year-old student said: "A man sends a picture of his genitals straight away or starts building a friendship first and tries to manipulate me into sending him a naked picture of myself. This goes on and on. The first time it shocked me, but then I accepted it and I just block them. It's happened to me like 30 times."

While parents are aware of the need to monitor their children's online activities, the use of parental controls varies considerably between parents. Some parents feel that parental control measures damage their relationship with their children. The survey of girls also found that their experiences of the internet vary widely depending on how involved their parents are in this area. Girls whose parents leave them free to use the internet have more negative experiences of online violence compared to their peers whose parents impose rules on internet use in the family.

Teachers and experts stated that schools should introduce common guidelines and protocols as well as adopt a comprehensive curriculum that includes sex education, principles of respect and aspects of gender identity, while the survey specifically highlighted the need to strengthen digital literacy and to provide adequate and systemic education on online violence to all target groups, in particular parents, teachers and children.

TRACeD is a two-year project starting in March 2022 and ending in February 2024, funded by the EU and implemented by the Centre for European Constitutional Law - Themistokles and the Dimitris Tsatsos Foundation, together with the following partners: ActionAid Hellas, CODECA - Centre for Social Cohesion, Development and Care, CSIi - Cybersecurity Institute International, Fondazione Carolina, and the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences.

This project is funded by the European Union under the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV-2021-DAPHNE). The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the authority which approved the project can be held responsible for them.

Back to list of notificationsPublished: 17. April 2023 | Category: News