For World Girls' Day 2023Her Body, Her Choice - Sexual Self-Determination of Girls on the Web

The United Nations World Day of the Girl has been held on October 11 since 2012. The child rights organization Plan International co-initiated this day and sets a focus topic every year with the Girls' Report. In 2023, under the title "Her Body, Her Choice," this is the question of the physical and mental health of girls with regard to sexuality and reproduction. On the occasion of World Girls' Day, klicksafe asks: What about girls' sexual self-determination on the Internet?

Sexism in social media

For healthy personality development, children and young people need spaces to try things out. Who am I? What do I like? And how do I come across to others? Social media offer the opportunity to explore all this. They open up access to other life worlds, connectedness and community. Relationships can be built and nurtured.

However, girls are confronted with (everyday) sexism in social media that can hinder the free development of their entire personality. They are reduced to their appearance and devalued if they do not conform to conservative role clichés. Their bodies are judged without being asked. In comment columns, girls can observe how women are condescended to and insulted. And they see the sheer hatred that queer people often encounter.

In this way, gender-based power relations are also maintained online and rigid gender stereotypes are codified. Girls learn that sexism is socially accepted and possibly adopt the unequal treatment into their own understanding of roles and values.

For more information, visit gender-roles.

Digital sexual violence

Social media are also used for targeted sexual harassment and violence. Here, minors are unexpectedly confronted with sexual innuendos and expectations in comment columns. They are put under pressure in livestreams by being promised gifts and likes if they follow sexual instructions. And when there is the option to send direct messages, this function is abused to send girls nude photos without being asked.

At cybergrooming direct messages also play a decisive role. Once the public is excluded, girls are encouraged to send intimate pictures or video material of themselves. Or they are asked to perform sexual acts on themselves in front of a running camera. This can lead to blackmail aimed at obtaining further recordings. Or a personal meeting may even be arranged in order to continue the abuse outside the Internet.

The Police Crime Statistics (PKS) records 48,821 reported cases of production, possession or distribution of child and youth pornographic material for the year 2022 (+10% compared to the previous year). And international figures are also alarming: according to the 2022 annual report of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), most of the children depicted are between 11 and 13 years old. But the increase in the age group of seven to 10 years old is +13% compared to the previous year. Age is decreasing while severity of abuse is increasing. One thing the IWF statistics show consistently when comparing the last three years is that images of girls make up the absolute majority of abuse depictions online (2022: 96%).

A Swedish study conducted in 2021 with more than 13,000 participants aged 10 to 17 also found significant differences between the sexes. For example, 88% of girls surveyed said they had been sent nude photos without being asked (53% of boys). 57% of the girls surveyed had already been offered money for nude photos.

Sexual violence is a massive intrusion into a person's personal integrity. Fear, helplessness, feelings of powerlessness, self-doubt and social isolation can be the result. Depending on the severity, frequency and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, children and young people sometimes suffer from severe psychological or physical illnesses. In the case of digital sexual violence, the consequences are further exacerbated because those affected cannot be sure where the depictions of abuse were published and who has access to them. Even if incriminating material could be successfully removed from the network, those affected are not protected from further dissemination (revictimization).

What can we do preventively?

As parents, educators and friends, we must support girls in learning effective protective mechanisms. Prohibitions are of little help: if the girls have bad experiences, fear and shame prevent open discussion and ultimately access to help. We can strengthen and support girls by ...

You can find more helpful tips and materials in the cybergrooming topic area.