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Catholic Teacher Blog: Stamping out online abuse

Fr Peter Hosking SJ |  22 October 2017

Incidents of inappropriate online behaviour by school students continue to be a concern. There are recent cases where students face criminal charges after filming and sharing sexually explicit material without consent.

‘Revenge porn’ incidents are being reported and addressed. Recently the Richmond Football Club in the AFL had to deal with an image that was forwarded without consent. Research reveals that 20% of Australians have experienced image-based abuse. This is twice what was reported just two years ago.

Those who perpetuate image-based abuse are increasingly liable to criminal sanction. Child exploitation legislation becomes applicable when a person under the age of 18 experiences image-based abuse, or was under 18 at the time the image was taken.

Young people today have been exposed to far more graphic, sexualised and violent content in advertising, mainstream media and online, than earlier generations. Sexualised media has reached a new level with selfies on Instagram and sharing of supposedly temporary images on Snapchat.

Julie Inman Grant, Children's eSafety Commissioner, reminds us that sharing a person's intimate images without consent leaves that person feeling betrayed, violated and powerless. Images, mainly of young women, are collected and shared. They can spread quickly on social media sites, via text or messaging apps and on websites that prosper from hosting this type of material. 

Young people need to better understand the consequences of their online actions. What might seem like harmless boasting about an interaction with another person can have devastating outcomes for that person. Some images are humiliating. 

As well as the immediate hurt of this deceit, there are feelings of ongoing devastation and angst because the person targetted doesn’t know how widely their images have been viewed and where and when they will reappear in the future.

The eSafety Commissioner has responsibility for tackling online abuse. Anyone aware of, or experiencing any form of online abuse, including cyberbullying, image-based abuse or online exploitation of children can report it to the eSafety Office at This site provides information about online safety and resources to support people.

The values of respect, empathy and consent are critical to good relationships online and anywhere else. The recent publicity about Harvey Weinstein reminds us of this. As well as his behaviour being abhorrent, equally worriesome was how it was enabled by others. Also concerning was how many victims remained silent because of systemic power imbalances.

The Children's eSafety Commissioner warns that while this culture of discourtesy is enacted by the actions of those recording and spreading this material, it is encouraged and normalised by the inaction of onlookers. While they may not record the images, bystanders enable this practice by forwarding it or not standing up against the abuse. 

It is not enough to disengage; they need to tell their mates they want no part of it. We stand for something better. Calling out bad behaviour requires us to be brave. Bullying and harassment is stopped when you call it out. 

It is important to seek counsel from parents and teachers when something rude, ugly and harmful is going on. Senior students, especially boys, need to teach younger students about online respect. Bullies should not be given status in the student hierarchy for their mean behaviour. 

Young people need to find their voice and confidence in saying ‘no’ and in communicating when a proposition is coercive or not normal. They require guidance in understanding what is normal behaviour in loving relationships. 

Opportunities for parents to discuss relationships and expectations with young people may be rare but do present on occasions and can be meaningful when delivered in a sensitive way. Parents should stay engaged in both their child’s online and offline lives, and always promote good values. Modelling good behaviour with our own technology use is necessary. This may include addressing our impulsive behaviours and addictions.

Parents do need to support children if something does go wrong online. That will mean helping their child to understand the impact of their bad behaviour and working with them through the steps they need to take to make it right. 

Teachers have a role in discussing appropriate online safety and what constitutes respectful relationships. We all need to work at stamping out technology-facilitated abuse and at building a culture of mutual respect.

Fr Peter Hosking is the Rector at St Aloysius' College, Milsons Point, NSW. 




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