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.
- Performing sexual acts on webcam without the consent of everyone involved or in inappropriate settings (like during an online work meeting).
- Sharing private images or videos without the consent of everyone involved, also known as revenge porn, which is illegal.
- Sharing porn in spaces where everyone has not consented to view it (like in Zoom meetings or other inappropriate places, also called Zoom bombing).
- 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. This can include an event like an accident or ongoing experiences that threaten or harm your well-being.
Each person reacts to traumatic experiences in different ways in the immediate aftermath and long term. You may feel guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, sadness, numbness, shock, withdrawal, and alone. You may have trouble sleeping, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of being easily startled and on edge.
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 where they can go for help if something in the online community is triggering.