Obstacles to telling adults about sexual solicitation and harassment

The original Finnish text has been published in the guide “Kysy, kohtaa, kuuntele. Opas seksuaalisen houkuttelun ja seksuaaliväkivallan ennaltaehkäisyyn nuorisotyössä”, Koordinaatti.
Although this article deals with young people, children may also be targets of sexual solicitation and harassment.

  • Feeling ashamed, if the child or young person has, e.g., been personally active in the communication. Adults should pay attention to their own reactions: if they have a tendency to get worried or lose their temper immediately, they should first try to listen to everything the young person has to say. Young people need adults who can take in whatever they have to say. Adults who show that they care about them, even when they have done something stupid. Even when the child or young person has made the first move in the messaging, it is the adult’s responsibility to reject the approaches of an underage child.
  • The young person feels that adults cannot help with negative situations online, so they start dealing with serious situations alone or with someone their own age. You should talk to the young person open-mindedly and boldly about all kinds of topics, including ones that may not always feel familiar or natural to the adult. Connecting with the young person in confidence is important so that they are not left alone with anything that weighs on their mind when it comes to the internet. Friends who are the same age can provide support, but they do not necessarily always know how to give the right advice and guidance to the young person.
  • The young person fears that their phone will be confiscated, meaning that they would not be able to stay in contact with their friends either. Young people may refrain from talking about negative experiences that they have had, because adults either do not seem to understand or ignore their online experiences and refuse the discuss them. Sexual harassment and solicitation are not the young person’s fault and they should not be punished for such incidents. Confiscating their phone does not help to resolve the issue. Communication and chatting with friends may be important for the wellbeing and recovery of the young person.
  • If disturbing contacts from strangers occur frequently on the internet, the young person may feel that they are not worth bringing up. Online harassment should not become normal in the world of the young person. It is important that asking questions and having conversations about internet usage are not a one-off thing. Regular, everyday conversations with the young person about all kinds of topics related to the internet and providing information about the risks and the safe use of the internet are crucial preventive measures that adults dealing with young people should take.

Topics you should discuss with every young person, even if nothing has happened:

  • Remind the young person that anyone can receive disturbing messages or come across sexual solicitation online.
  • Clearly tell the young person that an adult who approaches them with sexual intent or solicits or pushes them to do something sexual is behaving illegally and wrong. Tell the young person what to do in these situations.
  • Talk to the young person about media use and the functional logic behind social media. Remind the young person to ensure their privacy, also in digital environments. Instruct the young person to block any disturbing and harassing users. Encourage the young person to also report them to the service administration. If the perpetrator is an adult, urge the young person to report them to the police and help them do so, if needed. Encourage the young person to tell their parent or a reliable adult about what has happened. Find professional help for the young person, if needed.
  • Remind the young person to save and screenshot any messages and videos. If they cannot take a screenshot of the messages, remind the young person that they can also photograph their phone screen using another device.
  • Talk to the young person about not trying to seek attention from strangers on the internet. It is important for everyone to be noticed and accepted for who they are.
  • Tell the young person that they should not meet someone in person without telling their parent about it. Ideally, they should take a parent or another reliable person with them to the meeting.
  • Remind the young person that you are an adult who they can always come to whenever they have something on their mind and that you can stand hearing about difficult issues as well. Give the young person comfort and hope that things can change. They are not alone.

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