We, adults, must act against violence online…

Two weeks ago, I bumped into the news from the Czech Republic. 12 years old boy left home with a much older man. Later it was found that they met online. The last time, they were spotted at the train station heading probably to the Czech capital, Prague. Scary information just as it is, but even scarier if you are a parent. And when you are a parent with a certain knowledge about different types of violence happening online, this news is one of your parental nightmares.

In #PreventGBV project we focus on a certain target group and that is young people in the juvenile justice system. Regardless of this, we believe that also the general public would gain inspiration from our training materials to learn more about violence online and maybe even how to talk about it with the children and young people in your work, or your family. 

According to Mannerheimin Lastensuojeluliitto (2021) only  1/5 of young people who were subject to online bullying or other forms of online violence said about it to their parents or another trusted adult. But 91%  of young people stated that adults should take responsibility on social media and take online bullying and harassment seriously. And we agree. It is we, adults, who should be more interested in what is happening online and intervene when needed. 

In #PreventGBV project is Valo-Valmennusyhdistys currently developing one of the 5 training modules on gender-based cyber violence, that would be later published online in Finnish and English languages. Professionals (but also the general public) will find in the modules useful information on various forms and types of online violence, as well as activities that you can run with children and young people. 

In Valo’s module, we talk about cyber control and boundaries online. Online violence against women and men is gender-based, which means that women and men experience different forms of violence based on their gender. One example can be found in Nadim & Fladmoe’s research (2021) on gendered cyber harassment in Norway. According to them, men receive more name-calling and physical threats, while women are targeted more with sexual violence. Pew Research Center (ibid., 2021, p. 247) also mentioned, that  ”young women experience certain  severe forms of harassment at disproportionately high levels.”

Many social platforms are nowadays natural spaces for young people’s socialization. Partially because of the picture exposure, they can easily establish relationships: from friendship to sexual relationships with different levels of engagement. Social media naturally connect and young people experience many positive effects of it. But, statistics also prove, that we have to be careful when exposing ourselves to social media realities. Such things as cyber harassment, cyberstalking and surveillance through information technologies are one types of unwanted behaviour online. They include for example: lies that should harm the victim, privacy invasion, unwanted calls or messages, threats of physical attack and technological attacks, intimidation, blackmailing, revenge porn and more. 

Cyberstalking is especially dangerous, as it can move from the online environment to the physical space or the other way around. When talking about stalking behaviour the contact must be seen as unwanted and repeated, although what it exactly means is not precisely defined. According to the comparative study done by Wilson et al. (2022), unwanted contact might be something perceived as undesirable by the victim; continuation of certain behaviour after that person was asked to stop; and/or behaviour that causes the victim distress, fear or alert. When it comes to repetition, the wildly understood is that a certain behaviour should appear at least 2 times. It can be all the time the same type of behaviour, e.g. unwanted calls; or every time different behaviour: 1 unwanted call, then 4 times unwanted messages, etc. Such behaviour very often forces the victims to change their daily routine as a preventive measure

The behaviour of cyberstalking can affect the victim negatively in several ways: victims can feel discomfort, distress, fear, anxiety, irritation etc. Pereira and Matos (2015) found out in their study of Portuguese adolescents, that fear is strongly associated with female victims. The fear was increased if the victims were targeted with (1) messages of exaggerated affection, (2) persistent cyber stalker or (3) older cyber stalker. Nobles et al. (2014) found out that previous experience of victimization e.g. in domestic violence cases can significantly increase the distress and fear level of cyberstalking victims. 

In a conclusion, we can assume that females are more vulnerable to online violence just because of their gender. Girls and women usually face more serious and more threatening violent acts with more serious consequences on their mental health and feeling of safety. Young women targeted by much older people are in a  particularly vulnerable position. If you don’t want them to feel alone and in danger, you can start to change your perspective on the online environment and behaviours already today.

You can contact social media platforms and ask to block users who develop the harmful context online. You can contact the police if you notice dangerous situations. And you can be present as a human being and trusted adult by following for example these recommendations (inspired  by Sua Varten Somessa, n.d.):

  • In harmful situations, assure young people that what happened is not their fault. Thank them for being brave enough to tell you. 
  • Let them know that they are not obliged to speak with everyone. They don’t have to answer messages. They can also immediately stop any harassing conversations and block the person who harassed them. 
  • Support them in reporting the person to the platform. There is always a link and instructions on how you can do it, or do the report for them. Some harassing situations can be criminal acts and you should report them to the police. 
  • Take the story seriously. Don’t blame, doubt or belittle.
  • Make sure that young people are not alone in their emotions after the harassing situation. Support them in talking about it with some trustworthy adult.
  • Speak with young people about their boundaries. Make them understand, that they don’t need to agree with everything someone asks them for. They can say no.
  • If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. 
  • Give them hope that they can overcome the situation. 

For more information follow our web page or social media channels. We will publish updates on the training modules and other activities in the #PreventGBV project.


Mannerheimin Lastensuojeluliitto. Nuoret ja nettikiusaaminen 12–17-vuotiaiden näkemyksiä netissä tapahtuvasta kiusaamisesta ja siihen puuttumisesta.  (2021). https://cdn.mll.fi/prod/2021/04/21124054/nuoret-ja-nettikiusaaminen-kyselyraportti-mll-2021.pdf _ 

Nadim, M., & Fladmoe, A. (2021). Silencing Women? Gender and Online Harassment. Social Science Computer Review, 39(2), 245–258.   https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439319865518 

Nobles, M., Reyns, B., Fox, K. & Fisher, B. (2014). Protection Against Pursuit: A Conceptual and Empirical Comparison of Cyberstalking and Stalking Victimization Among a National Sample. Justice Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2012.723030 

Pereira, F. & Matos, M. (2916). Cyber-Stalking Victimization: What Predicts Fear Among Portuguese Adolescents? In European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 22, 253–270. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10610-015-9285-7 

Training materials of Sua Varten Somessa, (n.d.). Available: SuaVartenSomessa-5.-6.lk_-1.pptx – Google Slides 

Wilson, C., Sheridan, L., & Garratt-Reed, D. (2022). What is Cyberstalking? A Review of Measurements. In Journal of Interpersonal Violence , 37(11–12), NP9763–NP9783. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520985489

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