Unsafe or unwanted contact
- Online friends and contacts should respect your boundaries – meaning they shouldn’t send you messages that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, or stalk you on your social media platforms.
- Online contact that crosses boundaries you’ve established needs to be reported, but sometimes you might feel unsure about what to do.
- If something feels off – trust your instincts.
- eSafety can help you address unwanted contact.
What is unsafe or unwanted contact?
There’s a chance you’ve felt uneasy online at least once or twice. According to our Digital lives of Aussie teens report, 30% of young people have been contacted by a stranger online. The trouble is, on the internet, people don’t come with a ‘good person’ or ‘shady person’ badge, which means it can be hard to know who to trust.
To make matters more complex, contact that may feel harmful may not always come from a stranger or from a place of intended harm – it may also come from someone you know.
So, how do you know when to trust your gut, and what to do next?
Signs of unsafe or unwanted contact to look out for
Some people who contact you may genuinely just want to be friends or to chat. If your conversations flow easily, there’s a sense of respect, and you feel comfortable asserting your boundaries, take this as a sign your relationship is probably healthy.
However, connections can move quickly online. Someone who you think is a friend can start off from a place of respect, then quickly shift your boundaries. You might go from chatting about school one day to getting requests for nudes the next.
If it feels like your gut is trying to tell you something, it’s probably right.
Here are a few signs that can help to validate what you’re feeling and figure out what's going on.
Their stories aren’t adding up
Little details, like inconsistencies in a person’s location, age, or occupation, can tell you if a person’s being genuine or making up an image for their own use.
They find and talk to you across all of your social media accounts
Being contacted on accounts you haven’t provided is a form of boundary-crossing. It’s also a sign that the person has comprehensive knowledge of where you ‘live’ on the internet – and isn’t afraid to act on that information.
They’re overly interested in the details of your life
Things like where you live, who you live with and how you make your way into the city, don’t need to be shared with internet friends. If anyone asks, it’s worth asking yourself what they want that information for. If they don’t have a good explanation, this might be a sign they’re not trustworthy.
They say things that leave you uncomfortable
If your friend’s telling you how pretty you are, or asking if you’ve had your first kiss or sexual encounter, and it makes you uneasy, this is a pretty good sign your views of the relationship aren’t the same.
They hint at wanting favours
Friendships should be reciprocal and safe. This also means that no one should ask for favours of any kind to advance or keep the relationship afloat. Friends who ask for nudes, money, or other favours, are not real friends.
Hi, my name is Chanel Contos and I'm the founder of the Teach Us Consent campaign.
This campaign asked for Australian school students to be taught consent education earlier, holistically and in every single school, and thanks to tens of thousands of Australians across the country who signed this petition that has now happened.
Ever gotten a DM from someone that's a little bit weird or felt that twinge in your gut, that's told you something's not quite right?
When you live part of your life on the internet, it's very probable that something like this has happened to you before.
There are lots of strange people on the internet, but obviously not all of them are bad.
So the question is how do you know when someone means you harm?
Number one: If the person's stories aren't adding up.
Let's be real: Everyone makes things up. But if someone you're speaking to has inconsistencies in basic details and personal interests, it could be that they're not being honest about who they really are and they may be making this information up to play a role in order to get closer to you.
Two: If the person's behaviour is becoming overly familiar.
Online conversations and friendships can develop fast, but they should have limits.
If a person starts asking for information you're not completely ready to share, like around where you live or your sexual experiences, it could be a sign that they have different expectations of the relationship.
Some internet predators may try to isolate you from your friends. They may claim they're the only one who understands you or supports your dreams.
While at first it sounds romantic and feels great to meet someone online who just gets you, just be careful. Sometimes this behaviour is intended to make you vulnerable or manipulate you for the benefit of them down the track. Trust your gut.
And finally, number three: They are not respecting your boundaries.
A no is a no, and if someone on the internet is pushing you to do something you don't want to do, like sending nudes, revealing information around yourself or cutting off friends, it is a sign they do not respect your boundaries.
The report and block function on online platforms can keep dodgy people like this out of your life.
The rule of thumb is if your gut feeling is telling you something is off, it's probably right.
Your online connections should bring you joy and help you grow, not leave you feeling uneasy.
If you do find yourself in a tricky situation, eSafety might be able to help.
They can also help you get mental health support that you need to find your feet again.
So reach out and know that you're never alone.
Chanel Contos: Consent and staying safe online
How do I keep myself safe?
There are a few things you can do to manage how much unwanted contact you get:
Make your accounts private. If you don’t want to be contacted by strangers, consider putting all your accounts on ‘private’. You should be able to do this by entering your account settings and updating them so you choose who can see your posts.
Check The eSafety Guide for more information about updating your privacy settings for different apps, games, websites or other online platforms.
Clean up your contacts list. How well do you know everyone on your friends list? If the answer is ‘not well’, it’s worth running semi-regular checks to ensure you’re comfortable with who’s following you. If there are accounts you’ve never interacted with before, or friend requests from people you don’t recognise, it’s not a bad idea to delete them.
Set and state your boundaries. Being clear about what your boundaries are will help anyone that genuinely wants to be your friend online. Establish your expectations and boundaries early, so new friends are in no doubt about what you expect.
Examples of some boundary-setting could include making it clear you don’t want to discuss your sexuality or sexual experience.
My favourite thing about the internet is the connection it brings.
I can talk to anyone from anywhere. I can share anything I want.
It can be hard to open up to the adults in your life when things go wrong online, especially if you think they're not going to understand or that they're gonna blame you.
But the adults in your life can help with certain things like gathering evidence for an eSafety complaint or filing a police report.
They can also act as your advocate so that when you're feeling unsure, you have somebody who'll speak up for you and remind you of the respect that you deserve.
If you don't know how to reach out that's understandable.
It can be tough, even though staying silent can make your problem worse.
It's important to figure out which adult you trust enough to talk to.
Your trusted adult could be one of your parents, but it could also be an English teacher or one of the adults at your job.
Then you have to figure out what you want to ask them or tell them.
Writing down what you want to see can be super helpful.
You might ask for help making a report, you might ask for advice for what to do or you might just need somebody to listen.
Last of all, you need to figure out where you want to hold this conversation.
You might want to chat over the phone or via text, so it's not as overwhelming as in person.
Or you could chat after school in a place that's going to be comfortable for you and there'll be no distractions.
Once you've figured out which adult you want to talk to and you're prepared for the conversation, try sending them a text to let them know you want to chat.
You could say something like, 'Hey, there's been a problem online and I need your help.'
And remember, the adult in your life were once our age too.
They may have been in similar situations and may have advice to share from what they've learned.
They'll be able to help you carry the load.
It shouldn't be up to you to do this alone.
Keep in mind that eSafety also has a pretty big directory of free and confidential support services you can access at any time.
Thalia: The hows and whys of opening up
Something has happened
Ask them to stop. If you feel uncomfortable with the way someone is speaking to you, and you feel safe to do so, ask them to change their behaviour. It might not always work, but sometimes just letting them know they're upsetting you will make them reassess their actions.
Prevent further contact. It’s always OK to stop communicating with someone if you no longer feel comfortable. You can use in-app functions or the settings on the web browser to mute, unfollow or block the other person and change your privacy settings.
Screenshot, report and block on the platform. The eSafety Guide has information about how to do this on different online platforms. Screenshots help if you need to take further action at any stage, so think of it as ‘insurance’. And confidentially reporting them to the platform can help keep the platform safe for others, and you can do this before blocking them.
If the platform does not help or you’re still being contacted against your will, make a report to eSafety. Prolonged unnecessary contact is considered harassment, which means we can help you. You can make a cyberbullying report to us if you are under 18. If you are over 18, you can make an adult cyber abuse complaint. Learn more about what to expect and how to report.
Get help and support. If the content is really concerning you and you’re feeling a little out of your depth, talk to a trusted adult. You may feel like you should be able to handle it yourself, but talking to someone makes it easier to decide what to do and how to deal with the impact. You can also seek help from confidential counselling and support services.
Report it to the police or the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE). If you’ve exhausted all the above options and still feel unsafe, it might be time to consider a formal approach.
ACCCE can accept reports about inappropriate behaviour such as unwanted contact, coercing and blackmailing for sexual purposes.
The police can help you put safeguards in place. Informing them can also help if the threat becomes immediate, so when you call Triple Zero (000), your concerns will immediately be heard.
Get support from confidential counselling and support services
5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.
12 to 25 year olds. All issues. Phone counselling and online chat available 9am to 1am AEST, every day.
Last updated: 09/05/2023