Join Us in Promoting Safe Online Spaces During Sexual Assault Awareness Month
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) — a time to draw attention to the prevalence of sexual assault in Trinity County and how to prevent it. Sexual harassment, abuse, and assault are widespread problems. 2021 marks the twentieth anniversary of SAAM, and the theme of this year’s campaign is “We Can Build Safe Online Spaces.” Human Response Network will be hosting #30DaysofSAAM on Facebook. The campaign calls on us to create online spaces that are built on the foundational values of practicing consent, keeping kids safe, and supporting survivors.
We know that, in the United States alone, nearly one in five women and one in 67 men have been raped at some time in their lives (Smith et al., 2017), and that one in six boys and one in four girls is sexually abused before the age of 18 (Dube et al., 2005). One in five children per year receives an unwanted sexual solicitation online. One in thirty-three children per year receives an aggressive sexual solicitation. And perhaps most disturbing, at any given time, 50,000 predators are on the Internet actively seeking out children. (DOJ 2020).
Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse happen in all communities — and that includes online spaces. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are spending more and more of our lives online — whether that’s for work, school, or entertainment. Unfortunately, with this increase in virtual connection comes an increase in online abuse and harassment. Consent and boundaries can be violated online in a number of ways, and the trauma of online abuse is all too real for many survivors.
But each of us has the power to change that. We can all make a difference to ensure that our online communities are safe and respectful for everyone. Together, we can build safe online spaces now and into the future.
What is online sexual abuse?
Online sexual abuse can be any type of sexual harassment, exploitation, or abuse that takes place through screens.
Forms of online sexual harassment or abuse:
Sending someone hateful or unwelcome comments based on sex.
Sending unwanted requests to partners or strangers to send nude photos or videos or livestream sexual acts.
Grooming children to enable their sexual abuse either online or offline.
Just because these forms of sexual abuse take place behind a screen doesn’t make their impact on the victim any less real. While some of these behaviors are crimes, particularly any that involve sexual abuse of children, others are just as harmful. Additionally, as images of abuse could be reshared and recirculated on the internet, there is an added layer of revictimization.
Experiencing trauma online
Trauma is an intense experience(s) that causes overwhelming emotional and psychological stress. Many of us may have experienced stress firsthand when we’ve received a disrespectful, de-humanizing, vulgar, or even threatening comment online. Although these experiences are unfortunately all too common in the online world, it does not make them any less harmful. Coping and healing require acknowledging the impact of online sexual abuse without dismissiveness, judgement, or shame.
Trauma-informed online spaces
When building communities — whether online or in-person — it’s important to remember that many people you’re interacting with have probably experienced some form of trauma.
Being trauma-informed means taking into consideration a person’s experience of trauma and their reactions to it.
We can create trauma-informed online spaces by:
Giving participants choices about how to engage. For example, not requiring everyone to turn their video cameras on.
Make it clear if and how information shared in the space will be shared outside the space. One of your community agreements could be around not repeating others’ personal stories that are shared within the space so that participants feel comfortable.
Connecting participants to the support they may need. Let people know Human Response Network is available for help if something in the online community is triggering.