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This content originally appeared in our newsletter between August and September 2014 and reflected our views at the time. Caada is the previous name of SafeLives.

New technology creates another avenue for young people to display coercive and controlling behaviours, says Tink Palmer, CEO of the Marie Collins Foundation and one of the Young People's Programme partners. She explains how practitioners can best support young victims of online abuse. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Early findings from the Young People's Programme showed that young people are experiencing high levels of harassment and stalking, jealous and controlling behaviours and emotional abuse. As using a mobile phone and the internet is now the default position for young people when communicating with friends, the abuse frequently takes place online in addition to offline behaviours.

Examples of online abuse include:

  • Being encouraged to send compromising and/or illegal explicit sexual images of themselves, or to ‘talk' in an explicit sexual manner, often with threats or blackmail that this will be sent to others.
  • Multiple mobile phone calls, emails and/or text messages from their partner.
  • Being asked to take photos showing who they are with/where they are.
  • Being forced to give their partner passwords for social media, email accounts etc.
  • Contact from adults pretending to be younger, which can lead to grooming.

Why is online abuse more prevalent among young people?

  • Widespread use of smart phones means young people are continually accessible.
  • Abusive online communication is often hidden from a caring parent, adult or peer, who is then unable to take protective action.
  • Young people are less inhibited online, including the nature of the images they may send to one another. They may take spontaneous actions which could be used against them as a threat or blackmail.

Young people may be reluctant to disclose abuse as it's likely they have built emotional dependency on their partner. They may be feeling embarrassed and ashamed about the highly sexualised nature of their language when communicating online. They might also fear they will be judged as being an active partner in the abusive scenario and therefore partly responsible for what happened to them. Fear of peer group and family responses to what young people have done is another reason why they might be reluctant to talk about what happened.

How to help young people experiencing online abuse

  • Build a rapport with the young person and be honest about your concerns. Allow them to engage at their own pace. 
  • It is important that you know how young people communicate online. When asking the questions as part of your risk assessment, give examples of how abuse can take place online so that young people can identify and feel confident that you know how to respond to their disclosure.
  • Don't press the issue if the young person doesn't disclose. Instead work with the young person on a more general theme of what coercive/abusive behaviour is and how it can take place via social media/online.
    • How often do you use internet/social media to chat with your partner/ex-partner?
    • What sites do you use to do this? Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat/IM etc.
    • How secure are your accounts?
    • Have you shared passwords with girlfriend/boyfriend/anyone you know including people you trust? What access do they have?
    • What kind of things do you talk about?
    • Does he/she ever say nasty things to you online (in private or public online spaces)? What do they say? How does this make you feel?
    • Does he/she threaten you online? If so, what kind of threats? How does it make you feel?
    • Do you share any intimate pictures or information about yourself online/on social media? Do they make you do this? What happens if you don't? How does it make you feel?
    • What is their online profile? What names do they use? Do they have more than one online profile? 
  • The young person may minimise both the nature of the abusive content and the amount of coercive content that they receive from their partner. They may even deny any abusive activity.
  • When you use the Young People's Version of the CAADA-DASH Risk Identification Checklist to risk assess, consider online abuse as part of the assessment.