Focus topic: Sexual relationships online

The issue of sexual relationships online, and especially the negative consequences when things turn sour, has been the topic of much media attention of late. Sexting - the act of sending sexually explicit messages or images by mobile phone - continues to be a concern, but new issues are arising such as ‘revenge porn' (the act of sharing sexually explicit media (images or videos) online, without the permission of the subject of the images, as a means of embarrassing or harassing them, typically by an ex-partner), while other recent cases have seen intimate images ‘stolen' from cloud-based storage services and circulated. Unfortunately anyone involved in intimate relationships online could find himself or herself a victim. There is also an increasing prevalence of abusive intimate relationships between young people, sometimes facilitated by technology.

2015-03-31 BIK Coordination Team awareness

There has been much recent research on such phenomenon. Here we explore some of the research and, in particular, the impact which sexual relationships online can have on young people. We also share details of some of the resources to help those faced with such issues as developed by our European network of Safer Internet Centres.

STIR – Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships

This STIR research project - Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships - is a 24 month collaborative project which aims to focus on interpersonal violence and abuse (IPVA) in intimate teenage relationships across five European countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, England, Italy and Norway). It has four main aims:

  • Map relevant European research, policy and practice.
  • Document the incidence, impact and dynamics of online/offline experiences of partner violence and control within young people's lives.
  • Explore young people's own experiences of relationship violence and views on prevention.
  • Development of an appropriate, directly accessible, web-based resource and app for young people.

A number of briefing papers have been published so far, the findings from which include:

  • Bullying/cyberbullying has been used as a concept to include all forms of violence and aggression against children.
  • The topic of teenage IPVA (interpersonal violence and abuse), online and offline, is either absent or acknowledged only to a limited degree in law, policies and action plans.
  • Awareness of teenage IPVA is low among both young people and professionals.
  • Training for professionals and young people is offered in all countries, but is usually one-off and is not delivered on a systematic and continuous basis.
  • The extent to which the role of gender is recognised in prevention and intervention policies/practices on IPVA in teenage relationships varies greatly between the European countries participating in this study.

Further information can be found at

Recognising the significance of such issues, several of our Safer Internet Centres provide services and resources to provide support and raise awareness.
Austrian study on sexting
The Austrian Safer Internet Cente,, recently presented the results of a study on sexting commissioned in cooperation with  among 500 adolescents (aged 14-18). The results revealed that sexting has become a regular part of today's adolescents' sexual life and relationships:
  • A third (33 per cent) have already received a sexually explicit photo/video.
  • 16 per cent of the respondents declared that they have already taken a sexually explicit photo/video of themselves. In most cases, those photos/videos were also sent to others.
  • 31 per cent think that sending sexually explicit photos/videos to their partners is a normal part of a relationship.
  • Moreover, 9 per cent feel that it is normal to share sexually explicit images of themselves among their best friends.
  • In the majority of cases (81 per cent), young people are quite aware that sexting could have negative consequences.
  • If there was a problem, 75 per cent would demand deletion, 68 per cent would use report buttons and 48 per cent would seek help.
  • As regards raising awareness, the respondents think that teachers and parents (each 54 per cent) are mainly responsible for providing relevant information.

In summary, the survey has shown that young people are aware of risks deriving from sharing a sexually explicit image. However, that does not imply that they take fewer risks. The study generated a lot of interest followed by extensive media coverage in local and national media (TV, radio, print and online).

Danish viewpoints on young people and social media

The Danish Safer Internet Centre  has produced a number of articles (in English) which touch on how young people view and use social media, which may go some way to explaining why some become involved in sexual behaviours online:

Resources from Luxembourg on sexting, porn and e-dating

The Luxembourg Safer Internet Centre  has created a number of resources:

  • "Crime scene Chatroom" is a short guide on cyber grooming. It speaks to both, youth and parents, about how to detect a potential groomer, how to react to requests for nude images and sexual actions and where to get help. This guide is available in German  and French.
  • "Naked on the net" is a guide on sexting. It gives young people good reasons and arguments to say NO if they are asked to send a nude picture. It also explains the dangers of publishing intimate material on the net and gives advice on what to do when it's too late and the picture is spread. It is available in German and French.
  • Comic on "Sexting" is available in German and French (can be translated into other languages on request): Cartoon on sexting
  • "Porn" is a guide on porn and other types of sex on the internet. It tells youth, parents, teachers and adult consumers how to deal with porn. It is available and German  and French.
  • Comic on "Porn movies" is available in German, French and English (can be translated into other languages on request):

Cartoon on porn movies

  • The topic of e-dating is explicitly covered on the BEE SECURE website, in German  and French.
  • Comic on e-dating is available in German and French (can be translated into other languages on request):

Comic on edating

  • The "Facebook-Checker" is available in German and French. It gives short advice on what data can or should not be published on a social network site. It also includes a quiz to find out if your Facebook settings are secure enough.

Portuguese guide on sexting

The Portuguese Safer Internet Centre created several new resources for Safer Internet Day, one of which focused on sexting. This resource aims to raise awareness of the possible consequences of sexting, reminding readers that ‘not all relationships are forever'. Two people in a serious relationship exchanging photos or erotic messages is not news. What has changed in the digital era, however, is how fast these images can be exchanged and shared on online platforms. Once photos are shared online, you no longer have control over what happens to it. When relationships end badly, private messages and images can unfortunately be made public.

The resource also reminds readers that they should be careful with nudity in front of a computer. It is not uncommon for someone to ask a person to chat using a webcam and, during the conversation, take their clothes off and convince the other person to do the same. The conversation can be recorded and subsequently used for blackmail, either to harm the other person's reputation or for the purposes of cyberbullying or blackmail.

The resource goes on to offer the following tips:

  • Ask the person to delete the photo or message you sent. Someone who likes you and respects you will agree with your decision. If it is not the case, you may need to seek legal help.
  • Do not wait too long to take action - the sooner you try to get the picture back, the faster you can take control the situation. Ask someone you trust for help - this could be a friend, a family member or your national Safer Internet Centre.
  • Thanks to image rights, the photo cannot be disseminated without your permission (or without your parents' consent if you are a minor). It is illegal. If someone published your photos without your consent, you can and may revert to the law.
  • Use search engines to find photos of you on the internet. Also look for the profile names you use in social networks. You can also set Google Alerts (a photo which is not online might be in the future).
  • Remove your photos from the places where they appear. Social networks have report buttons. For a website you must contact the website manager or the website host. If they don't act immediately, contact the police.

UK Revenge Porn Helpline

The South West Grid for Learning, partners in the UK Safer Internet Centre, has recently launched a Revenge Porn Helpline.

‘Revenge porn' is a term used to describe sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual. Content is often uploaded by ex-partners with an intention to shame or embarrass an individual, linking content to the persons other online content, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or even work websites, along with personal information including addresses and telephone numbers. Sometimes this content is also directed at family members to cause maximum harm to the victim.

As the first dedicated helpline of its kind, the service has been funded by the Equalities Commission to provide a dedicated support service for anyone affected by this issue in the UK. Victims come from all backgrounds, male and female, aged 18 - 60. Some incidents are perpetrated by ex-partners, some by strangers, via hacking or stolen images.

The helpline offers free, confidential advice and support. While it cannot guarantee removal of all images online, the service's exceptional partnerships with internet industry partners allows it to minimise the reach, and some of the harm caused by revenge porn.

Find out more at

While not necessarily offering dedicated services, all Safer Internet Centres in the European Insafe network will aim to provide help and support - find out how to contact your local Safer Internet Centre here.

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