Austria – New study on sexual harassment and violence online

  • Awareness
  • 03/07/2018
  • Austrian Safer Internet Centre

In May 2018, Austrian helpline "147 Rat auf Draht" and SOS Kinderdorf jointly released a study on how young people in Austria are affected by sexual harassment – in particular, grooming – and violence online.

Nearly a third of young people aged 11 to 18 in Austria have experienced sexual harassment or violence on the internet (27 per cent). This alarming result is part of a new, representative study commissioned by the Austrian Safer Internet Centre's (SIC) helpline "147 Rat auf Draht" and SOS Kinderdorf. Violence online is widespread, and girls are primarily concerned – 40 per cent of 11-18 year-old girls have had such experiences. Often, victims do not share this issue with their parents or other people of trust.

The experiences categorised under "online violence" range from unpleasant sexual questions to sexual abuse. Frequently, children and young people receive nude pictures and videos against their will and are pressed to send such pictures of themselves. Around 10 per cent of the respondents have been at least once victims of extortion – for instance with naked pictures. 14 per cent of the 11 to 18 year-olds have already encountered online grooming. 

Another alarming result relates to the fact that sexual harassment and abuse online are considered "normal" by young people. They have resigned themselves and assume that they cannot do anything against it. Often, children and young people blame their own behaviour, when they are sexually harassed online.

Lack of knowledge on the legal frameworks
The legal framework in Austria is clear – for instance for online grooming: if someone asks children under 14 years old to send pornographic pictures, to undress in front of the webcam or tries to convince them to meet with the intention of sexual abuse, the person risks up to two years of imprisonment. In the example of online grooming, the study shows however that 56 per cent of the respondents do not know that this is a criminal offence, and only 8 per cent of the respondents have gone to the police to file a complaint regarding this issue.

Unfortunately, there is also a lack of knowledge on the legal framework among the police – the experts of the helpline report. They also call for policy measures to find more efficient ways to prosecute the perpetrators of online grooming and other forms of sexual harassment and violence against children and young people online. This also encompasses the need to for awareness raising and training of police personnel. 

Urgent need for awareness raising
The study shows also that only 32 per cent of the respondents have been informed about the dangers of sexual harassment. Most of children and young people wish to get more information about sexual harassment on the internet. This awareness raising should ideally take place within schools – starting at the end of primary school.

Also, there is a need for media literacy trainings and encompassing programs for the prevention of violence at schools to ensure that young people grow up to become critical users who recognise risks. This concerns the training of teachers and the implementation of violence prevention programmes in schools as well as the strengthening of social work and psychological counselling within schools.

For more, read the full study report (in German) on the SOS Kinderdorf website.

Find out more information about the work of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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