Two thirds of girls surveyed by Plan International Ireland have experienced harassment online
Today, ahead of International Day of the Girl this Sunday October 11th, Plan International Ireland launched research highlighting the extent of the abuse, harassment and violence girls and young women face on social media. Plan International Ireland is a development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.
At the global level, Plan International conducted a survey with 14,000 girls across 22 countries. This research, detailed in the Free To Be Online? report, was supplemented by an Irish survey of almost 500 girls from all over the country. While the global research found that 58% of girls have experienced some form of online harassment, 67% of girls surveyed in Ireland have been subjected to abuse or harassment online. The violence that girls have endured includes cyberstalking, being sent explicit images or messages, and/ or abusive and threatening messages and comments.
Girls and young women from ethnic minorities, from the LGBTQ+ community, and girls with disabilities reported being more likely to suffer harassment as a result of these intersecting factors. When girls speak out on issues that affect them, the abuse tends to get worse. The average age the abuse starts at in Ireland is 13. Globally, girls as young as 8 face violence online.
This form of gender-based violence is having a serious impact on girls’ mental health, their sense of safety and wellbeing, and their relationships. In Ireland, 25% of girls surveyed felt physically unsafe due to the abuse, 65% felt mental or emotional stress, and 75% found their confidence or self-esteem was knocked.
The platforms that girls in Ireland are most likely to experience abuse on are Snapchat (41%) and Instagram (40%). Globally, girls are most likely to experience it on Facebook (39%) and Instagram (23%).
CEO of Plan International Ireland, Paul O’Brien commented: “The research carried out by Plan International delves into the shocking extent of online abuse that girls and young women experience. We may have moved to a place whereby street harassment is far less acceptable than before in Ireland, but the reality is that harassment has followed girls into their homes, bedrooms and minds via social media. Decisive action is needed by social media companies to ensure girls across the world are free to be online.”
Plan International Ireland launched the findings of the global report and Irish research this morning in a virtual event. Plan International Ambassador, Laura Whitmore, delivered the keynote address at the launch. Also speaking was Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and the Diaspora, Colm Brophy, Chair of Plan International Ireland, Conor Faughnan, and Anne Marie McCarthy of Plan International who will explore how the issue manifests itself in the Lake Chad region. Following the report launch there will be a panel discussion featuring DJ & broadcaster Tara Stewart, journalist Aoife Moore, and a member of Plan International’s Youth Advisory Panel, Amy Keane.
Speaking before the event, Tara Stewart said: ‘Girls and young women want to be on social media – it can be an empowering place that allows them to build communities and express themselves. However, they need to be safe to do this without fear of violence. Social media companies need to put policies in place that prevent and respond to online harassment and hold perpetrators to account.’
Member of the Youth Advisory Panel (YAP), Amy Keane (20), said “In Ireland 90% of those surveyed feel more likely or equally likely to be harassed online as in public. Street harassment is no longer tolerated so why is online abuse? With more young people moving their lives online due to Covid-19, this issue is more urgent than ever.”
This week, Minister for Children, Disability, Equality Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman hosted a Girls Takeover event where he discussed the issue of online abuse with a member of the YAP. Other virtual events Plan International Ireland will have this week include an Instagram Live conversation with Marissa Carter this Friday at 11am, a social media takeover of Chupi’s and The Body Shop’s Instagram accounts on Sunday, and a Girls Takeover between Irish Aid and YAP members from Ireland and Sierra Leone on Monday next.
You can sign the Open Letter to Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter here.
Watch Laura Whitmore’s Keynote Address
Global Report: “Free to be Online? Girls’ and young women’s experiences of online harassment”:
- The research by Plan International, a leading girls’ rights organisation, is based on a survey of 14,000 girls aged 15-25 in 22 countries, including Brazil, Benin, the USA and India, and a series of in-depth interviews.
- Of those surveyed 58% experienced some type of harassment. 85% of those have experienced more than one type of harassment.
- Online harassment starts for girls from the age of 8. Girls report that social media harassment is at its peak between the ages of 14-16.
“Girls Online: Experiences and Impacts in Ireland”:
- The YAP surveyed over 457 girls & young women in Ireland aged 15-24 on the topic of online harassment. They also conducted five long-form interviews to obtain qualitative data. This report summarises their findings, linking them to the global context.
- Some of participants in our qualitative interviews initially said they had never experienced online harassment, only to later describe a personal scenario fitting the exact definition of online abuse. This suggests that the actual rates of online abuse might be even higher, because of a tendency to downplay the issue or the prevalence of the idea that online abuse ‘isn’t real’.
- Our survey found that 65% of girls and young women in Ireland have experienced harassment or abuse on social media.
- Platforms where girls and young women report being harassed: Snapchat 41%; Instagram 40%; Facebook 20%; Twitter 14%; TikTok 9%
- Amongst the respondents, only 9% said they think girls face more harassment in public spaces as opposed to online, while 46% said the level of harassment was the same. Several girls stated in interviews that there is a level of accountability harassers must face on the street, while no such standard exists online.