What Works To Prevent Violence Against Children Online?

Online child violence refers to the use of technology and the internet to threaten, harm, or kill a child. It can include online threats, cyberstalking, and online sexual violence.

Key takeaways:

In its most recent study on violence against children, the WHO offers strategies to address the rising global concern for the safety of children online. The subject of the study is child sexual abuse and cyber violence and intimidation. This article examines the study and its consequences for the online safety of children.

Digital child protection

The accelerated development of digital technology brings with it a plethora of new possibilities, challenges, and unfamiliar difficulties for children.

Educators, medical professionals, and others concerned with children's welfare are increasingly called upon to address a wide range of technological dangers. Consequently, many professionals are building on their own experiences to develop innovative strategies for safeguarding children in an increasingly digital environment.

Online VAC terminology

Online violence against children (VAC) is a term used to describe a wide range of harmful behaviors and activities that take place online and can have serious physical, emotional, and social consequences for children and adolescents.

Some common forms and examples of online VAC include:

  • Child sexual abuse and exploitation —activities such as grooming, sexual image abuse, and online enticement;
  • Cyberbullying and cyberstalking — the use of technology to bully, harass, or threaten others;
  • Online harassment — hate speech, doxing, and revenge porn;
  • Online radicalization and exploitation — recruiting children and adolescents into extremist groups or forcing them to participate in crimes or other dangerous activities;
  • Identity theft, hacking — including other forms of online fraud and deception that harm children.

Two forms of online abuse

Online child sexual exploitation and abuse

Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA) is a form of sexual violence that uses technology such as social media, chat rooms, gaming platforms, and other digital mediums to exploit, groom, and abuse children and adolescents.

This can include a range of activities, such as:

  • Grooming. This can include building trust through online conversations, sending gifts, or offering to meet in person;
  • Sexual image abuse. This includes activities like sexting, revenge porn, and the sharing of non-consensual images;
  • Online enticement. This is when an abuser uses the internet to lure a child into a sexual encounter;
  • Live-streaming of sexual abuse. This is the live-streaming of sexual acts involving a child, including sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and rape;
  • Online sexual extortion. This includes the use of threats or blackmail to force a child to engage in sexual acts, or to create and share sexual images.

Cyber-aggression and cyber-harassment

These are forms of online violence that involve using technology to bully, harass, or threaten others. These behaviors can take many forms and can include:

  • Cyberbullying. This includes sending abusive or threatening messages, creating fake social media profiles, or sharing embarrassing or private information;
  • Cyberstalking. This includes monitoring someone's online activity, or threatening to harm someone;
  • Hate speech. Spreading hate or inciting violence against a particular group of people. This can include racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs and messages;
  • Doxing. Sharing private information such as their home address or phone number about someone without their knowledge or permission on the internet;
  • Revenge porn. This refers to the distribution of sexually explicit photos or recordings of another person without their consent.

The most common perpetrators

The WHO study stresses that we need to rethink how we talk to children about being safe online. It argues that the notion of “stranger danger” should be de-emphasized because strangers are not the primary perpetrators of online violence against children and that, instead, greater attention should be paid to acquaintances and peers. This reflects the fact that, just like in traditional forms of violence, the majority of internet abusers of minors are people the victim already knows. This adjustment in perspective may aid in safeguarding children from cyberbullying and equipping them with the skills necessary to recognize and avoid being duped by those they know and trust.

Best prevention guidelines

The best practice guidelines for preventing online violence against children include:

  1. Widespread sex education programs have been shown to drastically reduce all types of sexual aggression, including dating and relationship violence and homophobic harassment.
  2. Parental involvement in educating children about the risks of online violence and monitoring their internet use.
  3. Technical solutions such as the use of content filters, monitoring tools, and other online safety measures.
  4. Specialized services and support for victims of online violence, including counseling and legal assistance.
  5. Legal measures to criminalize certain forms of online violence and provide support for victims and their families.
  6. More research is needed to better understand the nature and scope of online violence against children, as well as to discover effective solutions.
  7. The coordination of efforts among stakeholders at the national, regional, and global levels, including children and youth participation in decision-making.

What can parents or guardians do?

Some of the key strategies that the WHO report recommends for parents and guardians include:

  • Educating children about online risks;
  • Checking the websites and social media sites children access, as well as the people they communicate with online;
  • Talking with your children on a frequent basis about their online behavior and encouraging them to discuss any concerns they may have;
  • Setting rules and boundaries for children's internet use and having consequences in place if they break those rules;
  • Using technical solutions such as content filters, monitoring tools, and other online safety measures;
  • If you think your child has been a victim of online violence, get counseling or legal help;
  • Stay informed about the latest trends and risks in online violence against children.

To protect themselves from online violence, children should:

  • Keep their personal information such as passwords, name, address, school, or family information private;
  • They should only talk to people online whom they know and trust;
  • Refrain from meeting anyone in person whom they have met online;
  • Never fill in profiles that ask for personal information;
  • Get permission from parents/guardians before visiting chat rooms;
  • Leave an online session if they see something that makes them uncomfortable;
  • Ask for permission before posting pictures of themselves online;
  • Ask for permission before downloading or installing anything on their computer;
  • Ask their parents or guardians for help if they have any questions about something confusing or upsetting that they read online;
  • Understand that it is okay to end a conversation with someone who makes them uncomfortable.

It is very important that we take the steps we need to protect children from the dangers of online violence, which can damage their mental and physical health in serious and long-lasting ways. By working together and implementing these best practices, we can create a safer digital environment for children to thrive. It is our responsibility to make sure that every child has the right to a safe and healthy online experience.

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