Children sexually harassed by friends online

  • Awareness
  • 13/02/2017
  • Guest blogger - Helen Taylor

Here on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, our aim is to provide a multi-stakeholder platform showcasing a range of viewpoints and experiences on keeping children and young people safe online. As such, we welcome guest blog posts on our areas of focus. We were recently contacted by Helen, a freelance writer and mother, passionate about ensuring a future where her boys can safely navigate the internet. Here, she provides us with a research-based article on child sexual harassment online.

A study published in the Journal of Contemporary Justice has shown that children aren't only being targeted by strangers when it comes to sexual harassment. Rather, one in four kids are actually harassed sexually by friends, with female children, and children with low levels of self-control, being particularly vulnerable.

Youths and online sexual harassment
The study's authors noted that research thus far has mostly focused on specific online activities, such as sexting, but little research has been carried out on "coercion to engage in sexual conversations as a form of sexual harassment". They looked into the habits of 439 students aged 12 to 16, finding that 24 per cent of the kids surveyed has been sexually harassed over the internet. Those who were most likely to be victims included females, children with low levels of self-control, and those with peers who engaged others in sexual conversations online. Self-control is relevant because those who lack this quality tend to make more impulsive decisions, which increases their risk of being targeted by offenders.

Risk factors
Behaviour that increases male youths' risk of being targeted includes posting pictures on social media sites, since photographs provide offenders with more information about their victims. Female youths, on the other hand, faced a greater risk of victimisation from peers who viewed pornographic material. In addition to being coerced into sexual conversations, females were more likely to be exposed to unwanted sexual material.

The impact of online sexual harassment
Some youths do voluntarily engage in online sexual conversations, either for entertainment or to engage with other youths in romantic relationships. However, many others are coerced or sought out without previous warning.

The impact of sexual harassment online is significant. In addition to feeling embarrassed before their peers, youths can begin to show signs of depression or substance abuse. Since these conditions can have long-term consequences and can be difficult to treat, it is vital that parents take a preventive stance to online sexual harassment, and be on the lookout for changes in behaviour and mood.

Importance of parental prevention
One interesting finding made by researchers was that parental filtering software or placing the computer in a place such as the living room did not stop the problem of online sexual harassment. Said lead researchers, TJ Holt, "It seems like this is not something that can be technologically solved, at least for the moment. Instead, it has to be something that's resolved through engaged conversation between parent and child."

Communication is key
Conversations on the topic can be difficult with teens, since the latter can be reticent to engage in the subject with their parents. However, it is important that parents find and employ communication styles that their children can relate to. Studies have shown that kids who have strong bonds with their parents are less likely to fall prey to substance abuse; in the same way, those who feel close to their parents/those who feel like they have nothing to hide from parents, are more likely to engage in meaningful discussions regarding the risk factors and implications of engaging in online sexual conversations.

Parents can work alongside their children to identify the nature of unwanted sexual solicitations. For instance, many victims are often unaware that the solicitations are serious or threatening; up to two thirds are not frightened or upset about this type of encounter. Children need to understand that many offenders first try to obtain information, then use this information to blackmail, bully or embarrass their victims. Parents can also point out cases that have occurred, and teach children how to react swiftly (by blocking, leaving a site or telling the offender to stop). Finally, the importance of skills such as mental resilience are vital. The latter prompts children to seek out positive relationships, focus on solutions to problems and respond intelligently, instead of reacting emotionally, to any inappropriate online requests.


TJ Holt, AM Bossler and R Malinski, Identifying Predictors of Unwanted Online Sexual Conversations Among Youth Using a Low Self-Control and Routine Activity Framework. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 2015; DOI: 10.1177/1043986215621376., 1 in 4 Kids Sexually Harrassed by Friends Online, accessed January 2017., Developing Resilience and Mentally Strong Habits: Do's and Don'ts, accessed January 2017.

Childcentre,.info, Online Behaviour Related to Sexual Abuse, accessed January 2017., 1 in 7 Youth: The Statistics about Online Sexual Solicitations, accessed January 2017.

NSPCC, Online Abuse, accessed January 2017., The Resilient Child, accessed January 2017., Risk and Resilience, accessed January 2017.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, European Schoolnet (EUN), the European Commission (EC) or any related organisations or parties.

About the author of this article:
Helen Taylor is a freelance writer and mother. She is passionate about ensuring a future where her boys can safely navigate the internet by empowering parents and children with safe internet protocols.

If you would like to contribute a guest blog post to the BIK portal, find out more at

Related news

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.