Australian girls, online bullying and the important role parents play

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'…navigating online spaces as a young woman, I have often been confronted with unwanted attention from men, and outright sexual harassment, whether posting a selfie to show off a new outfit and receiving comments from men who sexualise and objectify me, to having friendly exchanges that become sexual…' Marina, now 25

A nationwide survey released in March by Plan International Australia and Our Watch has revealed most Australian girls and young women believe harassment and bullying are endemic in the online environment. Shocking as this is, the report, Don’t send me that pic, highlights the scale of the problem. It reveals that harassing bullying behaviour online is not rare; it’s the norm, and it’s affecting girls aged 15–19 across Australia.

The data backs this up. After surveying 600 girls and young women from all Australian states and territories, we now know 58 percent believe girls frequently receive uninvited or unwanted indecent or sexually explicit material such as texts, video clips and pornography. Moreover, 44 percent of those girls and young women don’t feel comfortable reporting incidents of abusive online behaviour.

The survey data indicates that the pressure on females to send sexy photographs is now commonplace, even though 82 percent of survey recipients believe it is unacceptable for a boyfriend to ask for a naked photo.

We now know there is a growing disconnect between what young men expect from relationships and what young women expect, and that this disconnect is now manifesting in the online world as bullying, abuse and harassment.  Women don’t want to receive unsolicited sexually explicit texts, yet men keep sending them. Women don’t want to be pressured to send sexually explicit texts, yet men keep asking them to do so.

So what do we do about it?

The first step is for girls and young women to block, delete and report anyone who is harassing them online or on their phones. The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner (the Office) explains how to do this. Girls and young women should also investigate how to report bullying and harassment on different social networks, and then do it. The Office provides valuable information about what to do when cyberbullying isn’t successfully resolved by a social media provider. Privacy settings should be checked.

Education about respectful relationships inclusive of online bullying, harassment and the impact of pornography is also essential. It is vitally important that young people are assisted to build equitable, safe and respectful relationships and have the means to challenge the attitudes that excuse, condone or trivialise violence towards women.

Parents and guardians talking with their children about sex and respectful relationships helps further. While it is an uncomfortable topic of conversation, it does get easier with practice. It is important children hear these messages at home, as well as at school. There are lots of ways to start a conversation about sex and respectful relationships with your children, both boys and girls, the results of this survey is one of them.
When I discussed the survey with my 18-year-old son, he gave me the ’durrr’ response reserved for old fogeys who know absolutely nothing. I asked nervously, ’you wouldn’t do that, would you?’ He said: ’Nah – remember how you made me watch that embarrassing video when I was fifteen about all of this stuff?’ I felt that maybe I had done something right as a parent after all.

We work with social media sites to remove serious cyberbullying material.

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