The three year long project will investigate online sexual harassment and exploitation in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The project is a partnership between Friends International Center against Bullying and the UNESCO Centre for Tackling Bullying in Schools and Cyberspace at Dublin City University.

We had the possibility to interview the project’s researcher, Dr Mairead Foody, about how to use the results of the study and why this project is important in the work to prevent bullying. Dr. Foody, will be based at Friends International Center and collect data from Friends’ schools in Sweden.


Dr Mairead Foody, DCU

Mairead, can you tell us what the research project is about?

The overall aim of the project is to conduct a large-scale investigation of online sexual harassment and sextortion behaviours in adolescents. While earlier research published by Friends provides the foundation for a more extensive study on online sexual harassment, further research is needed to determine the role of peer pressure, friendships and social network in prevalence rates.

Research on sextortion is even less obvious. There is no empirical evidence regarding its prevalence, or the impact it is having on the mental health and social networks of those involved. By conducting this research, we plan to raise awareness of online sexual harassment and sextortion as increasingly prominent child protection issues.


Why is this knowledge important in our work to stop bullying?

Teenagers and children are spending more and more time online. Yet, there is little evidence available on the specific risk factors of online sexual harassment or exploitation. Such negative experiences are comprehensive and examples include unwillingly receiving images of a sexual nature or having personal images shared online without one’s consent. Research is also limited regarding the role of gender in relation to these experiences and the effect these experiences can have on a victim’s mental health.

This research project is important for anyone working in the area of bullying because it explores another area where victimisation can occur. As such, it is imperative to gather research on the phenomena and look for the best interventions to help young people.


What can practitioners in different organizations and schools, as well as researchers learn from the results of this study?

An important part of the proposed research is ensuring that findings are used to improve the lives of children and adolescents as well as to inform the broader research area. We plan for our findings to be used in a way that will not only raise awareness of the issue but increase the effectiveness of anti-bullying and related policy. Among young people, it will increase understanding of the issue of seeking consent for the sharing of personal images and information.

Professionals working with victims will benefit significantly from improvement of data on causes, extent and impact of such issues and more concrete, in-depth information on risk factors and rates in Europe. In particular, their outreach work (and those it is aimed at) will benefit directly from improved research on effective responses. We have planned for several events aimed at educational staff for responding in a pro-active manner when dealing with online sexual harassment. We will work with trainers at Friends International Center and Dublin City University to develop materials for schools based on findings.


After your time in Sweden, you will spend some months at UN’s International Telecommunication Unit. What will you do there?

As this project is related to many areas, including education, human rights and information and communication technologies (ICT), it is important that training and dissemination also link with these. I will complete a 6-month placement with the United Nations specialised agency for ICT. The training that I will receive will represent the global work currently happening in the area. I will get the chance to improve important skills, knowledge and my understanding of the relevant policy-making processes. I will experience the non-academic contributions necessary in creating real change and get to see how multidisciplinary stakeholders can work together to achieve valued outcomes and make recommendations to policy makers.


This project started June 2018, and is funded by the Irish Research Council CAROLINE Marie-Sklodowska-Curie Scholarship which is a funding stream designed to conduct research in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.