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We need to stop the online abuse of our young women

March 21 2016 By Mary Barry, Chief Executive Officer, Our Watch

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.

Mary Barry, Chief Executive Officer, Our Watch Image

Even though 82 per cent of young Australian women say it’s not OK 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.

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.

As one 16-year-old told us, “we need to be better taught … that if we are respectful and have better attitudes we can feel safer and have better relationships.”

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 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. For more information, download the DAISY App.

Written by Mary Barry, Chief Executive Officer, Our Watch and originally published in the Newcastle Herald on 18th March, 2016.  


Media contact

For enquiries or further information: Hannah Grant, Our Watch, mobile 0448 844 930, email Hannah.Grant@ourwatch.org.au

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“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.”

About Our Watch 

Our Watch’s (previously the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children) purpose is to raise awareness and engage the community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.
Our Watch was conceived of and brought into existence in 2013 by the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of Victoria. The Northern Territory, South Australian, Tasmanian governments have also since become members of the organisation.
Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.