Online Safety

“… We urgently need you to start working, intimate photos of girls were distributed, they are in danger.” 

– Principal of Arab school –

Safty Online

“… We urgently need you to start working, intimate photos of girls were distributed, they are in danger.” 

– Principal of Arab school –

"Online Safety" for Adolescent Girls

is an innovative program run by Women and Their Bodies, with the support of the National Insurance Institute Fund for Development of Services for Children and Youth at Risk, and the Israel Internet Association.

The main purpose

is to minimize damage and risks and create a sense of online safety for Jewish and Arab girls, ages 12-18 , and foreducation/health professionals and parents..

An estimated 2.5 billion people interact online around the world. The “internet generation” refers to young people who grew up in a technology-based environment and are used to rapid information flow and data processing, with multi-tasking skills and expectations of immediate results. The internet and digital media at their fingertips invite endless opportunities, intriguing and enjoyable alongside the inherent risks. The internet provides young girls with opportunities to expand their reach in searching for information, learning and sharing, enables them to interact socially without meeting in person, and deal with stressful situations in new ways (for example anonymous questions). At the same time, the online world holds many risks and exposure to inappropriate content in areas related to health, body, and sexuality. Popular online content can lead to the development of negative body image, eating disorders, sexual abuse, and even connecting with sex offenders. In addition, they may be exposed to threatening content, exploitation, harassment, fraud, slander and even shaming and social exclusion without having to meet face-to-face.

Why does this program focus on adolescent girls?

The Online Safety for Adolescent Girls program answers the rising need that we encounter in our work with young girls, professional teams and parents, as well as in local and global research. There is no doubt that adolescent girls in the 21st century present a complex challenge for adults. This generation ostensibly knows “everything”, communicates in unfamiliar language and technology, while at the same time is exposed to inappropriate content, in a society where gender roles are changing, and visual images play a central role. It seems that over the past decades, technological developments have only intensified the generation gaps. Most education professionals, as well as parents, express serious concerns on issues of body, health, and sexuality of girls in general, and specifically related to the internet. And where parents and educators leave a vacuum, the internet becomes the tutor. The core of the program focuses on young girls and gender-related dangers that may be harmful and disrupt their lives. Unfortunately, the incidence of internet-related harm is much higher among girls and adolescents. Boys are also exposed to online dangers, but girls face unique threats concerning their bodies and sexuality that make the internet even more dangerous for them. An Israeli study from 2015 among 1,300 young people found that 47% reported that they had experienced online harassment (69% experienced harassment in the physical domain) and the incidence of virtual harm is higher among girls. In parallel to working with girls, the program also recommends working with education and health professionals, as well as with parents.

What do we offer?

Our online safety program works with three target audiences separately or in parallel:

Young women and adolescent girls ages 11-25

Education and health professionals

Parents

We recommend conducting a series of sessions with education and health professionals parallel to or before the sessions with the girls.

The program focuses on developing strengths and recognizing the online dangers and how to handle them, to help empower girls, develop strengths and clear boundaries, while encouraging a positive image of themselves and their bodies. The work is done through workshop sessions (in Hebrew or Arabic) with an experienced group facilitator and content adapted to each group. The workshop provides the girls, the professional teams and parents with reliable information, the opportunity to share and go through a process of change that will help minimize the potential damage to emotional, physical and sexual health and safety, and provide the professionals and parents with the tools to identify and minimize online risks.

Purpose of the program

Minimize future damage:

Young girls who have experienced difficulties, neglect and harm may develop and retain destructive behavior patterns.

Empowerment

mending girls’ relationship with their bodies, sexuality, and health: The workshops and groups go through a process with the girls, their relationship with their bodies, an in-depth process of re-acquaintance from a positive and accepting perspective.

Raise awareness

and expand knowledge among girls, professional teams and parents and open a communication channel: The work in parallel with professional teams and parents enables removal of emotional barriers and a chance to process and grow. As we know, the way to awaken and promote change is not to lecture about the right way to do things but rather raise awareness and create a dialog through professional group work.

main topics

Program for adolescent girls – main topics

The program aims to create an educational/healthcare platform for young girls, professional teams and parents to prevent, treat abuse, and strengthen and empower the girls, while raising awareness and focus on the following issues:
The percentage of boys who are sexually abused up to the age of 12 is identical to that of girls. However, as the age goes up, there are more incidents of sexual abuse among girls. All girls are in a “danger zone” due to their gender, age, or at-risk factors. The internet may be a dangerous and negative arena that can lead girls, and specifically girls at risk, to self-harm. Their sexual maturation is combined with social expectations and conflicting messages that cause feelings of embarrassment and frustration and often a negative body image, eating disorders, and development of harmful patterns of relationships and sexuality. The internet gives aggressors a sense of anonymity, invisibility that comes with the lack of eye contact, and which leads to a lack of inhibitions. Sexual bullying is rampant in the online world, manifested by lack of restraint, inappropriate language, harsh criticism, collection and circulation of sexual and abusive material as well as using the internet for violent purposes such as perpetrating crimes, pornography, and abusive connections (Boniel-Nissin 2013). Around half of the girls who experienced suicidal thoughts did so as a result of sexual abuse they suffered online.
This is the other side of the coin, when there is sexually related abusive content and on the other hand a lack of positive content online in relation to healthy sexuality. Therefore, it’s important to strengthen the knowledge and safety of girls’ physical and sexual health through the workshop sessions, which provide reliable information in a safe and protected environment, to talk and learn about the topic. Unfortunately, this important content, which is significant for adolescent girls and for boys, is not addressed sufficiently in the education system. Young girls without family support lack accessible and reliable information and rely on the vast amount of information offered online that is not reliable and may be dangerous and harmful.
Girls in general suffer during adolescence from emotional problems and depression. This factor is also manifested in the high percentage of plastic surgery in Israel, and a particularly high percentage of girls with eating disorders ( פינוס ואחרים, 1997; הראל ושות’, 2010). A significant element in the development of negative body image is exposure to the media, advertising and marketing that glorify the obsessive preoccupation with beauty, weight, and a single body model. Young girls have more of a tendency than boys for “acting in” behavior, such as eating disorders and practices of self-harm (while boys lean more toward “acting out”), and the risk of self-harm increases online. Young girls in the problematic route of eating disorders may feel lonely and make ill-use of the forums, websites, and information such as “pro-ana”, which encourages girls to maintain an anorexic lifestyle. In order to help all girls to cope with issues of eating and body image we work to foster a more positive, diverse body image. The workshop sessions will lay the foundations of a journey toward personal empowerment, control, love and acceptance of our body, a journey that will be supplemented by critical thinking to empower and oppose passive acceptance of negative messages.

Programs for professional teams and parents

In addition to our work with adolescent girls, we work with education and health professionals as well as parents:

The rationale for this is that we are temporary guests in various frameworks, while they are the responsible adults in the field, and they have to be prepared to handle these issues. One of the most significant claims heard frequently from young girls in the workshops is that adults find it difficult to talk with them about the various aspects of sexuality. The program recommends a model for an open channel of communication with professionals who are willing to “talk about everything” (culturally adapted), since adolescent girls often find it difficult to identify the connections between sexuality to boundaries and online safety. A skilled facilitator offers a safe space and provides parents with informed ways to deal with their concerns regarding the virtual and competitive world, their secret fears, and the obscure desires of the girls. Within that space the facilitator not only offers recommendations on how to deal with online dangers and the increased risk and exposure to violence and abuse, but also uses that as an opportunity for personal development, to expand knowledge and serve as an address for assistance and treatment.