Two-thirds of young women in Ireland have been harassed online

Harassment included being sent explicit images or messages, threatening comments and cyberstalking
Two-thirds of young women in Ireland have been harassed online

Two-thirds of Irish girls and young women have been harassed online, and Snapchat and Instagram are the social media platforms that are most likely to be used for harassment. File picture

Two-thirds of girls and young women in Ireland have been harassed online, and Snapchat and Instagram are the social media platforms that are most likely to be used for harassment. 

67% of girls in Ireland surveyed by Plan International, a global humanitarian NGO, said they were subjected to online violence. 

This included cyberstalking, being sent explicit images or messages, as well as being sent abusive and threatening messages or comments. 

Girls and young women from ethnic and racial minorities, from the LGBTQ+ community, and girls with disabilities were more likely to be subjected to online abuse.

In Ireland, the average age of a girl's first experience of online harassment was 13, while the youngest age reported was eight.

A large number of girls reported feeling targeted if they posted content that expressed their views, with 15% of respondents saying they decided to stop posting this type of content.

54% of girls said they believed their gender identity was the reason they were abused, and 86% said their appearance was a factor.

One in four girls in Ireland reported they or someone they knew felt physically unsafe as a result of online harassment. 

65% of girls said the online abuse resulted in mental or emotional stress, and 75% reported lower self-esteem or loss of self-confidence. 

The young women also said the reporting mechanisms on social media were faulty or took too long to delete the harasser's account. 

Many girls brought up the issue of fake accounts, where abusers will make an account specifically for the purpose of harassment, with no ties to their personal life. 

Globally, 58% of girls and young women have experienced some form of online harassment. 

The new research was conducted by Plan International, and its report called 'Global Report: Free to be Online? Girls’ and young women’s experiences of online harassment' was released on Tuesday.

14,000 girls aged 15-25 from 22 countries took part in the research.

Paul O’Brien, CEO of Plan International Ireland, said this online abuse against women and girls should be considered a public-health issue. 

"Young women around the world want and need to be online, especially now during Covid-19. The online space can be a rich source of education and community building.

“However, they are being driven from social media as a result of the violence and venom directed at them. 

The effects of online violence are far-reaching, impacting girls’ mental health, confidence, self-esteem and relationships.” 

Mr O'Brien added that while the enactment of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act (Coco’s Law) in Ireland was a progressive step, more needed to be done. 

"The legislation must be accompanied by education and awareness-raising to deter perpetrators and ensure access to justice for victims. The Government could also consider the establishment of a dedicated support line for those subjected to online abuse or harassment.” 

He also called for the introduction of an online safety commissioner, as set out in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020, as well as increased regulation of social media companies by the Government.

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