Cyber abuse of young women needs to stop

ABUSE: It’s now considered normal for young women to be sent unwanted sexually explicit texts, photos and pornography.

ABUSE: It’s now considered normal for young women to be sent unwanted sexually explicit texts, photos and pornography.

Young Australian women are facing an epidemic of online harassment and bullying. It’s now considered normal for them to be sent unwanted sexually explicit texts, photos and pornography.

These young women are also feeling pressured into sharing sexual photos when they don’t want to.

Even though 82 per cent of young Australian women say it’s not okay for boyfriends to ask for naked photos, over half of them agreed that girls are often pressured to take ‘sexy’ pictures or ‘nudes’ and share them.

Along with Plan International Australia, Our Watch conducted a survey of 600 Australian young women aged 15-19. They told us that the online harassment they’re facing is a serious issue.

Australian young women and girls report online abuse and harassment are endemic.

As the CEO of Our Watch, it is my job to lead the organisation to do everything we can to end violence against women and their children. One step towards this is recognising that the online harassment and abuse that young women are facing today is gender-based violence.

It is sexual harassment, plain and simple. We need to make it clear that demanding naked pictures and sending unwanted sexual images is not normal, safe behaviour.

Worryingly, the young women we surveyed told us that most of the online abuse they receive is going under the radar of parents and schools - 44 per cent of those surveyed said they don’t feel comfortable reporting abusive online behaviour. They also told us they’re concerned about the ideas that violent pornography teaches their peers about sex and relationships.

As an 18-year-old told us, “We clearly have a problem with violence and boys are watching a lot of pornography which can be very violent … This is influencing men’s attitude towards women and what they think is acceptable.”

Australia’s youth are some of the most digitally-connected in the world. As the internet and mobile phones become more and more important for young people, simply limiting internet access is not a plausible solution.

So what is the solution? Our Watch calls for increased and sustained investment in best practice respectful relationships education in our schools.

Schools play a huge role in the safety and wellbeing of our young men and women. Governments around Australia need to take online sexual harassment seriously and fund respectful relationships education. These programs must address online bullying, sexual harassment and the way that violent pornography is shaping our children’s perceptions about sex and relationships.

This will require a whole-school approach that includes improving a school’s culture, policies and procedures and promoting gender equality amongst staff. Done well, this will mean that young people will have the tools to have respectful, safe and equal relationships both on and offline.

The young women we surveyed told us they want to feel safe, have education about healthy relationships and to not be pressured into sexual behaviour. It’s time we started working towards that.

  • If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.

- Mary Barry is Our Watch chief executive

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