Sexual Harassment in Online Spaces

Sexual harassment does not only happen in real life. It can also happen online. While you may feel that being online keeps you safe physically, there are still dangers out there that can cause emotional damage. Learning how to stay safe can help protect you in online spaces. 

Your Online Presence

The internet and social media have become a significant part of most people’s lives. Whether you use it to learn, connect with friends, or for school, it can feel like you have to use it to fit into modern society. While this may be true in many aspects, you can choose how to ensure that your online presence helps you stay safe in real life. 

Your online presence is defined by what you choose to put online. This could be: 

  • Photos on your social media

  • Blog posts 

  • A professional page, like LinkedIn

  • A YouTube channel 

Unless you have no social media, you likely have an online presence. Others–including strangers–can view your profile and get to know you through the content you choose to put online. This can lead to positive things like friendships, job opportunities, and even long-lasting relationships as you connect with people that you may never have met in real life. Unfortunately, it can also lead to damaging things like bullying, harassment, and stalking. 

Setting Boundaries Online

There are several ways to set boundaries online to ensure that you keep yourself emotionally happy and physically safe. One way to have an online presence while keeping yourself safe is to set your social media accounts to private. This way, you can choose to only allow those you know and trust to view your profile and the content you produce online. 

If you have a bad experience with someone online, you can also block them from viewing your profile. If that person is threatening you or harassing you, it might be smart to take a screenshot of your conversation with them before blocking them in case you need to report them. 

Other boundaries you can set to improve and protect your online experiences include:

  • Choosing not to respond to hate comments

  • Not following negative news sources

  • Restricting someone’s access to your account

  • Setting your profile to private and removing strangers from your followers list

  • Not replying to messages from people you don’t know

Sexual Harassment Online

Cyberbullying is extremely common online. No matter how old you are, the anonymity that comes from being online causes many to participate in vicious cyberbullying that can erode your self-confidence and make you feel hurt and confused. 

One form of cyberbullying is sexual harassment online. Individuals who post photos, stream, or make videos may be extra susceptible to receiving online sexual harassment. Just because the harassment is happening online does not make it any less wrong than if it were happening in person. 

Some examples of online sexual harassment include: 

  • Unsolicited comments about your body

  • Sexually suggestive comments or threats

  • Stalking behaviors such as excessive commenting or trying to find your physical location

  • Reacting angrily to rejection, perceived or real 

  • Requesting sexual favors or a relationship

  • Receiving sexually explicit photos you did not ask for

Being the target of sexual harassment online can make you feel conflicting emotions. You may feel like because your harassment did not happen “in real life,” your experience is not as valid. You might also feel that how you choose to present yourself online invited the harassment. Neither of these is true. In reality, experiencing sexual harassment online can be just as damaging, painful, and frightening as experiencing it in person. Just because you choose to share or post certain things does not mean that others are allowed to harass you openly online. 

Online Grooming

Because it can be so challenging to know who is really behind the screen when interacting with the online world, it is critical to be aware of potential dangers like grooming. Grooming happens when an adult entices a minor into interacting with them. Online grooming can look like: 

  • Someone asking you to take sexually explicit pictures of yourself for them

  • Sending gifts 

  • Giving excessive compliments 

  • Confiding in them emotionally to an inappropriate degree

  • Asking you to hide your chats or keep them a secret from your parents

  • Threatens to expose you for online behavior if you don’t comply with their requests

If you believe that you are being groomed, speak to a trusted adult or loved one for help. 

Put Yourself First

When existing online, the best thing to do is to put yourself first. Do not be afraid to be rude or impolite in blocking someone that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Set your profile to private if that helps, even if you might not get as many followers. Use an anonymous name and photo when interacting in forums to keep your identity private. You can keep yourself safe online so that you can experience the more positive aspects of the internet. 

Staying safe online can be challenging, especially when the internet is part of modern society and culture. It can be difficult to want to participate in online experiences while balancing protecting yourself. Ultimately, you get to choose what you put on your social media profiles. You can determine whether a more private internet presence is right for you. However, despite the steps you take to stay safe, you might still experience bullying and sexual harassment online from strangers or people you know. If you are experiencing sexual harassment or grooming online and need help, SokyaHealth is here for you. Our licensed professionals understand how terrifying it can be to be harassed by someone online and are here to help you protect your virtual presence. We can provide you with the tools you need to be safe on the internet and find the peace you deserve. Call us today at (877) 840-6956 for more information on our services.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

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