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Online gender-based violence is systemic, sexuality education can bring systemic change

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8 March 2023 Tags: CSE, CSW, International Womens Day, IWD2023, online sexual violence, sexed, Sexuality education, SGBV, technology-facilitated violence

Online platforms are a double-edged sword for women: they provide spaces for those seeking to express themselves while being a weapon for abusers targeting them. On this year’s International Women’s Day, Karin van der Velde from Rutgers International reminds us of the importance of sexuality education to prevent this issue. 

When online and technology-facilitated gender-based violence makes the headlines, holding Big Tech accountable and asking governments to legislate are common reactions. Education is not necessarily the first thing people think of when looking to end technology-facilitated sexual and gender-based violence. Yet, sexuality education and raising awareness among young people is key to tackle what is a symptom of a structural societal problem. Online violence is part of a continuum of different types of violence deeply rooted in social norms, says Karin.

Investing in online and offline spaces

Promoting inclusive comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is at the core of Rutgers’ research and advocacy.  

General figures show that women are more likely to be victims of harmful and violent online actions, such as rape or death threats, sexual harassment and non-consensual image or video sharing. Sexuality education that does not shy away from this topic is therefore crucial. “People hesitate to talk to children in schools about this and sexuality education is very often given through the lens of health-related risks,” Karin explains.  

She also highlights how important it is to invest in online and offline spaces in order to provide accurate sexuality education: “When young people want to learn about relationships and sexuality, they use the internet. This is why Rutgers builds online modules and platforms.” But offline spaces such as schools must not be left aside. “Young people’s lives are taking place online and offline,” she adds 

Raising awareness among young people

Rutgers has always been a strong advocate for positive and evidence-based sexuality education to contribute to young people’s health and happiness. Young people and social media seem very much inseparable. Banalisation of online spaces highly impacts the way they perceive and use online platforms. Very often, it prevents them from being aware of the risks of social media. “It’s important that young people can identify online harassment. “They can’t be aware of it if they are not told about what sexting, cyber-stalking or cyber flashing are,” Karin argues, while stressing the need to show them the negative impact of these practices without moralising. 

Sexuality education is a shared responsibility

This is not an easy task and even if schools can play a major role in raising awareness among students about these issues, relying only on schools’ curricula and teachers is not enough, however.  

“Sexuality education is a shared responsibility. Parents and caregivers have a major role to play too,” she argues as family is where young people could get information about sexuality. Rutgers research shows however that young people talk less about sexuality with their parents and friends . The main challenge is when parents do not talk about it, therefore creating a taboo around the topic and triggering discomfort among children.  

Governments  must be hold accountable too, alongside Big Tech companies, in order to tackle misinformation, disinformation and violent content. Civil society organisations can play a big part in advocating for comprehensive sexuality education that encompasses every type of violence.

International Women’s Day 2023

The UN theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.” Karin hopes sexuality education will be part of the public debate as a significant tool in the fight against gender-based violence, including online violence.

Online and technology-facilitated gender-based violence is one of the symptoms of patriarchal values and power structures within societies.

“We can't prevent online violence if harmful social norms still prevail. Through sexuality education, these norms can be challenged.”
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