What is Online Sexual Harassment?

G. Wiesen

Online sexual harassment is a form of sexual harassment that primarily occurs over the Internet, typically through e-mail, an Internet forum, or online messaging programs. This type of harassment can occur anonymously, often by someone who may not know the victim but is instead simply harassing people randomly. It can also be targeted at a particular victim by someone the victim does not know, which can occur when the victim is a celebrity or other famous individual. Online sexual harassment can also take place between two people who both know each other, in which case the assailant chooses the Internet as a medium for harassment rather than direct contact.

Online sexual harassment may occur between two people who know each other.
Online sexual harassment may occur between two people who know each other.

Sexual harassment of any kind, including sexual harassment online, typically consists of words, images, and actions that are sexually explicit or provocative and make the receiver feel threatened or strongly distressed. While physical actions may not be possible with online sexual harassment, there is still a great deal of potential for harassment through words and images that can be sent through the Internet. The methods for delivering such harassment can vary a great deal, but may include the use of e-mail, online forums and groups, instant messaging services, online computer and video games, and comments on blogs.

Online sexual harassment may give rise to gossip.
Online sexual harassment may give rise to gossip.

While other forms of sexual harassment often involve direct contact between the victim and the perpetrator of the harassment, sexual harassment online can be done in relative anonymity. The Internet provides a number of opportunities for harassment in which the assailant may not actually know the victim. This can be done at random, often by spamming e-mail and instant messenger addresses, or may be directed at a particular target the assailant does not actually know.

Online sexual harassment can also occur between two people who know each other, in which case the messages sent can be more personal in nature. In any type of sexual harassment online, the harassment typically involves unwelcome and unsolicited words and images that make the victim feel threatened or distressed. Anyone receiving such messages should request the sender stop further communication immediately and indicate that any future messages are unwanted and will be considered harassment. A copy of this notification should be kept by the victim, as evidence in case of future harassment.

If this type of notification does not end the online sexual harassment, then an official complaint should be made. This can be made to managers of a workplace or teachers at a school, if appropriate, or sent to administrators of a website or messaging service the assailant is using for harassment. If threats of violence or assault are made through such messages, then law enforcement should be notified and any messages received should be kept as evidence of the harassment.

Online sexual harassment can cause severe emotional distress.
Online sexual harassment can cause severe emotional distress.

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Discussion Comments


@talentryto- If you think you are a victim of online sexual harassment, get help. This kind of activity is criminal, and when it occurs it should always be reported to law enforcement officials.


It is a very sad statistic that victims of online sexual harassment can be of any age. It is particularly disturbing when it happens to young children, because this form of abuse is confusing to children. They think of online activities and surging the Internet as fun, and online sexual harassment puts a damper on this excitement. The important thing to do is prevent online sexual harassment before it happens.

Though you want to respect your child's privacy, you should be aware of what he or she does online. Make sure you know what social media sites your child uses, and do your best to keep track of his or her virtual friends. Keep the line of communication between you and your child open by encouraging him or her to tell you if anything disturbing ever happens online. Talk to your child, and make sure he or she understands that it is not his or her fault if online sexual harassment does occur.

Finally, keep in touch with your child's teachers so you can keep track of his or her online activity at school, too.

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