Sexual harassment online

“Sexual harassment” refers to verbal, non-verbal or physical unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that violates the mental or physical integrity of another person.

The term somewhat overlaps with the term “sexual abuse”. Sexual harassment can include a wide range of acts, such as sexually suggestive speech or writing, gestures or expressions of a sexual nature, or touching. Sexual harassment always violates the self-determination and sexual integrity of the victim. Sexual harassment is subjective – it can be found disturbing, offensive, unpleasant, distressing and/or frightening. Sometimes the perpetrator may say that the harassment was a joke – but that never justifies the act, and such conduct is always wrong. Recognising sexual harassment can be challenging for a child.

Sexual harassment can be committed by the child’s peer, a child of another age or an adult. Sexual harassment can take place online on various open chat platforms, in social media or via private or group messages, for example.

Sexual harassment online includes but is not limited to the following:

  •  sexually offensive name-calling, rumour-mongering and intrusive comments about another person’s body
  • sexually explicit communication, jokes or innuendos (unless the communication is consensual)
  • sending sexually explicit or suggestive emojis, unless the sending and receiving of them is consensual
  • editing images to make them sexually explicit by, for example, adding text or emojis
  • sexually explicit comments or postings on open forums
  • sexual harassment via live video link

Sexual harassment is always wrong. Sexual harassment can affect a child’s daily life, such as their ability to concentrate and study. The harassment can have wide-ranging effects on the child’s self-esteem and sexuality, and in the worst cases it can cause depression or other symptoms. Even as an adult, a person may feel inadequate because of the harassment they experienced when they were young. Sexual harassment must be addressed.

When sexual harassment is directed at a child or a young person, the act can very easily constitute a criminal offence. In such a case, you must report the incident to the police or the Finnish Hotline.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Save the Children Finland and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union.