UNICEF research into risks of the internet
The recent report (pdf) by UNICEF called Perils and Possibilities: Growing up online finds that young people are aware of the positives of the digital world, but how aware are they of the risks?
The research surveyed more than 10,000 17 – 18 year olds in 25 countries including the United Kingdom.
53.4% of respondents strongly agreed that children are in danger of being sexually abused or taken advantage of online, with 36% young people in the US and UK believing that their friends put themselves at risk online.
Just half of the respondents felt that they had learned how to deal with online sexual harassment including threats, unwanted sexual comments or requests online. However, most felt well equipped to protect themselves on social media from (non-sexual) abuse and bullying.
The report finds that UK teenagers were far more likely to feel strongly that they are relaxed whilst online; three in five, in comparison to one in three in the Middle East and North Africa.
The report features case studies on children such as Jenny from Madagascar who met with a man six months after she began talking to him online. He held her hostage for two months during which he drugged and raped her. She has obtained medical support and counselling from UNICEF ever since.
It also featured Rosalyn from the Philippines who was told by her neighbor that she could earn money performing sexual acts online when her parents lost their jobs. Later, her parents bought her a computer to force her to continue this. They are now awaiting trial. Rosalyn now campaigns for online safety for children and young people and plans to become a social worker.
In Central European countries, the report states that 78% girls would be worried if they received sexual comments of requests online, in comparison to just 33% of boys. Girls were also more likely to tell a parent if they felt threatened online (58%), whilst fewer boys would disclose what had happened (39%). 73% of respondents agreed that protecting their security and privacy online is very important.
What you can do
UNICEF has launched a campaign as a result of this report, and to try to encourage young people to engage in the debate to end violence online. #ReplyforAll.
Bolt Burdon Kemp’s own campaign #ChildAbuseintheDigitalAge aims to raise awareness of how sexting and communications through the internet puts children at risk. As the UNICEF research shows, 75% of respondents in the US and UK strongly believed that they knew more about social media than their parents. The report calls for parents to learn more about the social media and online platforms their children are using to understand the risks better. If you want to find out more about social media, sexting and online safety, you can find our toolkit here.