SEXED: Investigating online SEXual harassment and Exploitation in relation to the UN Sustainable Developmental Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) relate specifically to the reduction in violence against, and exploitation of, children and teenagers (SDG.16.2). Dangers in digital and online environments fall within this remit and as such, this project is particularly concerned with the prevalence and impact of online sexual harassment and exploitation of teenagers.

While previous research in the area of cyberbullying (or online harassment) has highlighted important issues for prevention (e.g., the need for friendships and strong social networks), there is little evidence available on the specific risk factors of online sexual harassment or exploitation. Such negative experiences are far reaching and examples include unwillingly receiving images of a sexual nature or having personal images shared online without one’s consent. Research is also limited on the role of gender in these experiences, and the effect they can have on a victim’s mental health. As such, the current project aims to conduct a large-scale cross-sectional study of the prevalence of online sexual harassment and exploitation in teenagers in Sweden and Ireland, with particular attention to gender and psychological outcome.

This data will be collected in collaboration between Dublin City University and Friends International Center against Bullying. Findings will be used to inform policy solutions and recommendations with support from the United Nations’ specialized agency for Information and Communications Technologies (ITU). The work plan and research objectives falls under the umbrella of the Sustainable Development Goals outlined in the United Nations Agenda 2030. Academics and NGOs working with victims of sexual harassment and exploitation will benefit significantly from the results and recommendations of this project.

While the research published earlier by Friends International Center against Bullying provides the grounding for a more extensive study on online sexual harassment, further research is needed to determine the role of peer pressure, friendships and social networks in prevalence rates for online sexual harassment specifically. Research on sextortion is even less evident. In addition, in conducting this research, we plan to raise awareness of online sexual harassment and sextortion as increasingly prominent child protection issues which currently have no relevant procedure set at the EU to counteract it. Thus, the objective of this project is to use its research findings to inform the broader area of policy development as well as anti-bullying/harassment interventions at local levels. There are five research questions directly related to this research:

  1. What are the prevalence rates of sextortion in Irish and Swedish adolescents?
  2. What are the risk factors (e.g., gender, sexual identity, ethnicity) for involvement in sexual harassment and sextortion in both Sweden and Ireland?
  3. What is the impact of online sexual harassment and sextortion on adolescent mental health, friendships, education and family relations in Sweden and Ireland?
  4. What legislation is currently in place to tackle online sexual harassment and sextortion internationally and at local levels in Ireland and Sweden?
  5. What are the most effective strategies for reducing online sexual harassment and sextortion and buffering the negative effects internationally?

This project is a collaboration between Dublin City University and Friends International Center against Bullying and is funded by Irish Research Council and the Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme CAROLINE 


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Whole Community Approach against Bullying and Discrimination
Even though major measures are taken to reduce bullying, the national figures in Sweden has stayed the same for the last decade. The schools are trying hard to combat bullying, but too often the interventions that are used to stop and prevent bullying are not effective.

Together with Örebro University, Friends International Center has initiated a unique project aiming to develop and evaluate a unique systematic approach to prevent bullying and discrimination based on best-known research. The project will combine a systematic strategy with the benefits that arise in taking a whole community approach in an entire municipality and integrate the work against bullying from preschool to upper secondary school.

The project will go on for three years and the strategies will be based on each school’s specific challenges and context. Other anti-bullying programs have been developed as “set-menus”, which means that the development and evaluation of preventative programs against bullying have been based on a “one size fits all” idea. There is now a great demand for a systematic strategy that is based on an “a la carte”-approach, in which schools choose different components based on their specific needs and context. The schools’ unique preconditions and complexity clearly points out that the needs of the schools vary. The use of preventative measures is highly context-dependent. Contexts, seen from a socio-ecological perspective, depend on varying conditions in each school. It is crucial for the development as well as the implementation of different measures that the context is analyzed, and that specific problems in each school are highlighted and understood in the specific context of that school. Previous research shows that different types of measures lead to a wide variety of effects, depending on the context in which the measures are used. As presented in the evaluation of Swedish anti-bullying programs 2007-2010:

Actual results from this evaluation emphasize the importance of gathering contextual data, not just because of the possibility of iatrogenic outcomes, but because an effective component in one circumstance may prove ineffective or even counter effective in outwardly similar circumstances. On a systemic level schools can vary considerably. (Lessons From a Concurrent Evaluation of Eight Antibullying Programs Used in Sweden. 2013. Erik Flygare, Peter Edward Gill, Björn Johansson. American Journal of Evaluation Vol 34, Issue 2, pp. 170 – 189)

This demands a high quality of the analysis made in the schools. Both regarding selection and use of various preventative measures, aiming at each school’s specific causes of bullying. It also places high demands on the selection of different research-based intervention.  School-specific work against bullying needs to be based on best-known practices for specific problems. To meet this, Friends recently developed a training program based on an analysis of each school and an arrangement in which the specific results of the school’s situation determines further work. The need for a new understanding of anti-bullying work and more effective evaluation methods cannot be emphasized enough.

Within this project, Friends will develop a unique multi-level school-based training program against bullying and implement it on a municipality level. The project will develop evaluation methods that analyzes the specific context for a school, and these methods will be used by schools in order to understand and implement research-based methods against bullying and discrimination. The final approaches will be disseminated nationally as well as internationally after the project period.

This project has been made possible with support from the Stenbeck Foundation and the Swedish Postcode Lottery. The first steps of the project have been taken during October 2017.


Logo_txt_runt_farg [Converted]Degrading treatment, bullying and student learning
This project aims to investigate how degrading treatment and bullying affect students’ academic performance. Previous research indicates that vulnerable students perform worse in school but also that students who are not directly involved in bullying may be adversely affected in their school work. I.e., in schools with a high degree of bullying students seem to perform worse than students in schools with a low degree of bullying. The results point to the possibility to indirectly promote students’ academic performance by countering degrading treatment and bullying. In this project, we intend to examine how students’ academic performance are affected by degrading treatment and bullying through a longitudinal design based on individual data. More specifically, the study aims to answer the following questions:

  • How does the presence of degrading treatment and bullying covary with students’ academic performance at the individual, classroom and school level?
  • How do students’ development paths affect their short term and long term academic performances?
  • Are students’ academic performances affected differently depending on the type of degrading treatment and bullying?
  • Are boys’ and girls’ academic performance affected differently by degrading treatment and bullying?
  • How are the perpetrators and the victims’ academic performances affected by degrading treatment and bullying?


Linköping-universitet-LiU_primary_blackStudents’ experiences of bullying and degrading treatment related to social identity categories
The aim of this project is to investigate the students’ own experiences and descriptions of harassment, discrimination and other degrading treatment related to structural or local power relations and norms. By analyzing more than 100 000 answers in Friends’ student questionnaires the study will examine in what ways degrading treatment related to social identity categories is reflected in the students’ descriptions. Through this study we hope to learn how children experience and describe degrading treatment related to various norms; for example, sexism, racism, homophobia, life style, class or interests to thus obtain a child’s perspective on the expressions of power structures in schools. It also gives us more knowledge about the relationship between power and inequity as well as social identity categories such as age, class, functionality, ethnicity, gender and sexuality etc. in a school context.


Peer rlogo-org-svensk_rgb [Converted]elations in preschool and secondary school
The Department of Child and Youth Studies at Stockholm University is currently working on a project which aims to enhance understanding of the patterns of interaction between children and young people at preschool and secondary school level. Above all, this project focuses on how children and young people create alliances with their peers and position themselves with regard to one another, as well as what style of language they use in such processes. The objective is to understand mechanisms for inclusion and exclusion.

Professor Ann-Christine Cederborg is managing the project and she is the assistant supervisor of the two employed doctoral students, Mari Kronlund and Lina Lundström . Associate Professor Camilla Rindsted is their principal supervisor. The results of the project will form the basis for development of training programs via Friends.

In spring 2015, they will start working with the first academic article and it is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. This article will seek to answer the question: How do participants include and exclude others, and how do they act when a child or children are exposed to insulting behavior? This study will develop knowledge of how bullying takes place and what strategies children use in these sensitive interactions.

The second article, which will be compiled between autumn 2015 and summer 2016, aims to answer the question: How do children indicate to one another the significance of their actions? With such an approach, we aim to understand how bullying is made explicit in verbal exchanges.
The final planned question, to be answered between the autumn of 2016 and the summer of 2017, is: During the interviews, how do children who have experienced or witnessed bullying describe their experiences? The issue of differing perceptions is crucial to our understanding of phenomena in terms of victimization processes and the issues relating to allocation of blame and responsibility.


Göteborgs universitet

Youth participation in cyberbullying prevention
The research project is conducted in cooperation with the Department of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg together with Professor Ann Frisén and Ph. D Sofia Berne. This project aims to develop and evaluate interventions to reduce degrading treatment online and cyberbullying. The project uses action research and an important part is to involve the whole school, with a focus on making students involved in efforts to develop preventive methods. Representatives from the Department of Psychology, together with personnel from Friends, will work closely with both students and staff in the pilot schools to jointly develop various methods against bullying. The effects of these methods will be evaluated against the control schools to form the basis for future methodological development.

Together with four organizations from Finland, Estonia and Hungary, Friends implements an international method developing project during 2015-2016. The overall project objective is to increase youth participation in prevention of harassment, intimidation and bullying, and to improve methods of mapping how young people feel, both online and offline.

In the project, Friends works along with three pilot schools in the Gothenburg area. Through workshops and training courses, the students are involved and guide the development of new innovative methods to activate other students, school staff and parents in the preventive work to foster a safe environment in school. The result of the project is an updated and enhanced framework for the school’s efforts to foster a safe environment.

All work and development in the project are based on current legislation, the school’s common principles mandate and the latest research in the field. The training material is based on best practices, research and experiences from different European countries. In addition to development of new methods, the project aims to develop a European network of research-based practices in the field.

The work presented in this website has been produced with the financial support of the Daphne Programme of the European Union. The contents of this website are the sole responsibility of Friends and our partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.


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Evaluation of contextual interventions in bullying prevention
The research project conducted in collaboration with the Department of Psychology, Law and Social Work at Örebro University and Ph.D. Associate Professors, Björn Johansson and Erik Flygare. The project aims to develop a theoretically grounded analysis based on Friends work in school and then monitor and evaluate the Friends program. The aim is to get a better understanding of the process from the intention and purpose of preventive measures, to the implementation and its impact on students/school personnel. The aim is also to evaluate the measures and in what way and under what conditions they make a difference. Subsequently, the project will provide greater understanding of the context and the conditions under which various efforts have effect, and focus on developing the initiatives that provide the most efficacy and the work required for them to have effect. The project is a five-year project and will involve 25 schools around Sweden in the data collection during 2016-2018.