Today, on International Day of the Girl, the White House Gender Policy Council, Domestic Policy Council, and the Department of Education convened a roundtable with youth survivors of online harassment and abuse, alongside educators, youth and adult advocates, and health experts.
Today’s youth are using social media and online platforms more than ever before. Screen time among teens and tweens has risen sharply over the last decade, especially during the past two years, to approximately eight and a half hours a day for non-school related activities for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18. While there are many benefits of digital technology, more time spent online also means more exposure to online harms, which disproportionately impact girls—including sexual exploitation, the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, dating violence, sextortion, and cyberstalking. In the U.S. and globally, half of girls report that they are more likely to be harassed through social media than on the street. Of the girls who have been harassed online, 47% have been threatened with physical or sexual violence.
Roundtable participants shared their experiences with varying forms of online harassment and abuse, and underscored the serious impact on their health and well-being, including mental health issues like chronic stress and depression, as well as physical harm from dating partners. They spoke of the false dichotomy between the “offline and online” worlds for young people, whose social connections move fluidly between the internet and in-person. Several participants emphasized the disproportionate impacts of online abuse on adolescent girls, youth of color, and LGBTQI+ youth. One participant spoke of the exponential rise in child sexual exploitation online, and of the permanent effects of this trauma on adult survivors as their images continue to circulate online. Another participant emphasized the connection between accelerated social media use during the pandemic and the decline in adolescent mental health, including the alarming increase in teen suicides, especially among girls.
Participants provided recommendations to the White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse, focused on ensuring access to support services, highlighted the need for the tech sector to improve safety in the design of their products, and discussed how parents, teachers, school administrators, and law enforcement can compassionately and effectively support youth who have experienced online harassment and abuse.
Administration officials reaffirmed the White House’s commitment to addressing online harassment and abuse, including through the Task Force, and the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse. The Task Force will produce recommendations for preventing and addressing technology-facilitated gender-based violence, and will share guidance and resources for supporting and engaging state governments, schools, and other public and private entities to tackle this pervasive challenge.
External participants included:
- Sophie Arroyo
- Melissa Jean Baptiste
- Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media
- Michelle DeLaune, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- Angela Lee, Love is Respect
- Margaret Ochoa, Colorado School Safety Resource Center
- Maham Sewani, Plan International Youth Advisory Board
- Advocates from #myimagemychoice