Children are often sexually harassed on social media – what does this mean and how can this problem be solved?

Almost 90% of children have ever received sexual messages from adults. However, very few cases come to the attention of parents or authorities. Experts point out that a lot of work remains to be done to improve the situation.

According to police and child protection organizations, sexual exploitation of minors on social media is common.

Yle asked six child protection organizations , Crime Victim Support Services and Police, how widespread this phenomenon is and how it can be eradicated.

The organizations Pelastakaa lapset, Mannerheimin lastensuojeluliitto, SOS-lapsikylä, Nuorten Exit, Suojellaan lapsia, a joint project of three defense organizations answered questions children called Sua varten somessa and Crime Victim Support.

Answers show that the problem is widespread and well hidden.

Research has shown that children rarely tell anyone about their experiences of sexual abuse, and especially rarely with adults. However, if a child decides to tell an adult, it is very rare for an adult to report the incident to the police.

Child protection organizations and the police believe there is still more work to be done to improve the situation.

In this article we will look at what child sexual abuse is on social media, where it happens, what is known about victims and perpetrators, and how it should be dealt with.

Why is the situation serious?

According to a survey conducted by Yle , organizations receive several thousand reports of child abuse on social media every year.

For example, Pelastakaa lapset receives about 3,000 reports of child sexual abuse on the Internet or related illegal images of children on the Internet annually.

According to the Sua varten somessa project, employees conduct between 300 and 400 conversations with children and adolescents each month, the majority of them being sexual harassment.

Victim Support Services receive calls and reports of such cases weekly … SOS-lapsikylä also informs that conversations with children on this topic take place every week.

According to a report published in the spring by the Pelastakaa lapset, nearly 90% of children received sexually explicit messages from adults. Almost 80% of children received intimate photographs from adults.

Last year, the police received just under a thousand reports of sexual crimes against children. According to police statistics, the Internet has been listed as a crime scene in approximately four hundred cases of sex crimes against children.

The number of contacts with organizations and the Crime Victim Support Service is many times greater than the number of reports of violations to the police.

As if sexual harassment is a necessary evil to put up with when creating an account.

– Maria Talvitie

Police and organizations stress that it is extremely important to make all cases public.

Research shows that the consequences of child sexual abuse can be long-term and far-reaching. They are associated, for example, with chronic pain, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, infections and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Experts say that online violence can be as harmful as violence in real life.

– The sooner the child receives help, the better he will recover, – notes Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen , psychotherapist and executive director of Suojellaan lapsia ry.

What is child sexual abuse on social networks?

According to appeals to child support organizations and the Crime Victim Support Service, children and adolescents face the following types of abuse and harassment on social networks:

  • sexually explicit messages
  • being forced to send photos
  • sending explicit photos or videos without the recipient’s consent
  • being forced to meet and threatening
  • editing photoshopped images to give them a sexy tone and their distribution building a trusting relationship with a child for the purpose of his sexual exploitation

Project employee Sua varten somessa Maria Talvitie reveals that some teens consider this activity to be disturbing and even illegal, but perceive it as an almost normal part of social media.

– As if sexual harassment is a necessary evil to be tolerated when creating an account.

For example, more than a third of the tip messages received by Pelastakaa lapset last year contained materials or actions that have been found to be illegal and that are indicative of child sexual abuse.

Criminal Police Commissioner Saara Asmundela , who specializes in crimes against children, notes that you should always file a crime report if a child

Where is this happening and with whom?

According to the organizations that responded to the Yle survey, children and adolescents are sexually abused, in particular on Snapchat, Tiktok , Instag ram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Onlyfans and Kik messenger.

In cases reported to the police, such incidents have also occurred in online video games popular with children.

According to Inspector Saara Asmundela, the majority of the victims are girls as young as 15.

– The closer to the age of 16, the higher the proportion of victims. The younger the child, the less likely they are to become the target of such a crime.

However, according to Asmundela, there has been an increase in incidents of lecherous behavior on young children on social media lately.

Research shows that that girls are more likely than boys to be victims of sexual violence. Perhaps this is due to the fact that such crimes are mainly committed by men. However, boys are less likely than girls to tell anyone about the sexual harassment they have experienced.

Although girls are more likely than boys to report their experiences, it is still very rare for girls to report their experiences to adults. Most often, a child shares his experiences with a friend or girlfriend.

According to a 2019 school survey, less than a third of female students in grades 8-9 and only a fifth of boys of the same age told adults about sexual harassment or violence with which they

Why are children silent?

A study published last year shows that very few cases are reported to the police, even when a child tells an adult about his experience.

A quarter of children who participated in the study said that when they told an adult about sexual abuse, they were disbelieved, angry with them, or advised not to talk about it. The child protection authorities and / or the police were filed in about a tenth of the cases.

Only about half of the children felt supported.

In a survey of child victims in 2013, most children cited a reason for refusing to tell a story that they did not dare or did not dare to tell anyone, or that they didn’t think anyone would be interested in what happened.

This is very disturbing, says Inspector Saara Asmundela.

– Only a small fraction of cases come to the attention of the police. This means they are not reported to the police or perceived as improper or inappropriate behavior. This is what I would like to change in our society.

Still, she says, public discussion and increased awareness in recent years have led to an increase in police reporting.

How can the problem be eradicated?

In addition to research, more action is needed to combat and prevent child sexual abuse on the Internet. This is the opinion of all Yle respondents.

We must acknowledge that there are people among us who have a sexual interest in children and should be offered help before committing a crime.

– Criminal Police Commissioner Saar Asmundel.

Below are the measures indicated by the organizations interviewed by Yle.

Helping criminals. Several projects are currently being implemented in Finland aimed at helping people who have a sexual interest in children before they act on their inclination.

Criminal Police Commissioner Saar Asmundela hopes funding for these projects will increase as there is an urgent need for help.

– I know that all dates are booked and these people are waiting in line. We must acknowledge that there are people among us who have a sexual interest in children and should be offered help before committing a crime. This is the best prevention.

Report to authorities. Any incident reported to an adult should be reported to the police. This increases the chances of catching the offender, and one message is likely to help many children.

Compliance with age restrictions on social media. Most social media applications are limited to 13 years of age. Child protection organizations and police who responded to Yle’s questions believe it is important to adhere to age limits. Responsibility lies with adults.

– Age limits are set by experts and take into account the social-cognitive ability of the child to understand and assess risks. If an 8-year-old is using apps designed for children over the age of 13, this is a serious risk, says Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen of the child protection organization Suojellaan lapsia ry.

Early initiation of sex education. Nearly all of the organizations that responded to the Yle survey emphasized the importance of starting sex education much earlier than it currently does. Sex education is now starting in grade 5.

– A common and serious problem is that there is little information available for children under the age of 12. Children are really in an unequal position because they depend on how issues are discussed at home, says Johanna Virtanen from SOS-lapsikylä.

Network Prevention Planner Saara Kokkonen of Nuorten exit ry says young people who have received inadequate sex education are at increased risk of being sexually abused.

– Breaking taboos, talking about them and exposing them lowers the threshold seeking help for both victims and perpetrators, Kokkonen emphasizes.

Talk and listen to children. Police and organizations alike emphasize that social media use should be discussed with children from the moment they start using apps.

However, the discussion should not demonize the Internet or blame the child. A child is not responsible for a crime committed by an adult, despite the fact that he often feels ashamed and guilty for what happened.

– The proliferation of victim blaming and blame for victims encourages the victim to remain silent and the offender to continue, says Maria Talvitie. Sua project worker varten somessa

Many organizations report that it is often difficult for children to talk about sex the violence they have experienced.

An adult should initiate an active discussion. Research shows that asking directly lowers the threshold at which a child can talk about their experiences of abuse. It is easier to tell an interested and present adult if something is a concern.

– You should talk about social networks every day, ask these questions like any other: where have you been, what you did and who you talked to, – says Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen from Suojellaan lapsia ry.

For example, She says you can teach your child to take a screenshot of everything he sees on the Internet – both enjoyable and thought-provoking – and show those pictures to parents at the end of the day.

Calm adult is extremely important because it encourages the child to talk more.

– Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen

Criminal Police Commissioner Saara Asmundela hopes adults will treat social media traffic as they do physical movement children.

– Before the start of the school year, we, together with the first grader, go through the road to school, point out dangerous places and support on the way to school. On social media, children are often left alone with no advice on how to behave safely.

Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen reminds that when a child talks about what he has seen and experienced on the Internet or social networks, the most important thing for an adult is to stay calm and listen.

– Probably very difficult, especially parents, remain calm if their child tells them that he has been the victim of sexual harassment, harassment or violence.

– However, the child’s first need is to get help. The calmness of the adult is extremely important in this case, as it encourages the child to talk more.

Help for victims of sexual violence: Apuu-chat, Nettivihje, Sua varten somessa, Nuorten exit, Rikosuhripäivystys, Nuorten netti, Suojellaan lapsia.

Help for people concerned about their own sexual interest in children: SeriE-hanke, Mielenterveystalo, Sertiatyö, Välitä! Nuorten hanke.