Adolescents and online sexual violence: Part 1

“Child worshiping” society on social media

In the 2010s, computers began to appear in low- and middle-income families, which led to new forms and methods of socialization, self-expression through various social networks. 

My generation was caught between the rise of “Odnoklassnik” and “Vkontakte”. If you considered yourself a progressive in our small rural community, then you definitely should have used the second one. These limited resources, however, were not enough for a curious and impatient teenager like me, so I created two “identities” on Twitter and Vkontakte at the same time.  While I portrayed my cool, pop-culture-following, new-rock-discovering, foreign-hanging-out, highly-emotional self on Twitter, my hidden persona on Vkontakte was seeking social connections and interactions with peers of a small rural community and maintained a correspondence with two girls of the same age that rarely went beyond homework discussions.

So, one day I received a message on Vkontakte from a fake, deleted account, the content of which made me lose my sense of reality. It can be said that I felt nothing but fear, I even forgot to breathe. It was a long text full of threats, in which the unknown abuser described in detail the sequence of his steps, what and how he was going to do to me. That’s how my first ideas about sexual intercourse were formed. I didn’t know anything before, and it was terribly cruel for a very emotional 13-year-old teenage girl to learn about it like that.

The user, in addition to detailing his violent fantasies, also threatened me not to tell my parents or anyone else about it, or … (more detailed descriptions of what he would do to me). 

For three years after that incident, I anxiously went to and from school every day, each time expecting the “promised violence”. Yes, it sounds absurd, but I had come to terms with the fact that one day the threats would come true. In my typical 13-year-old teenage head, the injustice that happened to me and the shadow of which constantly followed me could not be accommodated in any way. I didn’t understand who I had hurt or offended to deserve being treated like this.

In my university years, of course, I was no longer “waiting” and thought that the user with a fake account would be so cowardly that he would not go beyond the threats. However, abstract fears remained with me, and I constantly had the feeling that I was being watched/persecuted.

When I look back on this experience, I have many questions that I don’t have the answers to and I’m not sure I will one day. I am talking about this for the first time. Text is the only way to be able to tell it all. I am speaking about it only after 10 years. I tell you about my fears accumulated over the years, my paranoid feelings of being chased, overcoming my fear of trusting people.

I managed to get out of that nightmare alone and with great difficulty, and now

I am writing this for hundreds of girls.

I am writing to embrace your wounds with my words,

I am writing my sentences to help you take your hands away from your wounds to heal,

I am writing so that you do not believe those who say that it is your fault.

I am writing to tell you that I understand you.

I am writing to let you know that you are not alone.

I am also writing for those people who shout, declaring that “our nation loves children, worships women, there are no pedophiles, rapists here.”

I write for those who underestimate this type of violence and its effects,

I am writing for those who accuse us of “not doing it right”, of “inciting” the abusers…

Teenagers as targets for online bullies

Having gone through many crises and difficult phases and experiencing it all on my skin, I now try to be as careful as possible in my surroundings, preventing and/or protecting teenage girls who are potential targets for abusers on online platforms. And again, the text is the best way for me to raise awareness about problems and difficulties, so in this part of the essay we will get to know online sexual violence and its impact on teenagers.

The rapid pace of information technology development brings with it many dangers and challenges, which change and develop so quickly that we often do not even have time to perceive them and give them any form, definition. In this context, the most common phenomenon is online sexual violence, which is still not very understandable in our society. 

Online sexual abuse can be any type of sexual harassment, exploitation that takes place through the “screen”.

Forms of online sexual harassment or abuse include:

  • Sending someone an unwanted message about sex,
  • Hateful comments based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
  • Sending nude photos, videos to a social media user.
  • Performing sexual acts on a webcam without the consent of all parties involved or in an inappropriate setting.

On the Internet, the above actions can often be normalized or ignored. Sometimes the abuse starts online and then takes place in real life, and in other cases the abuse happens entirely behind screens. Online sexual violence is often not taken seriously, and the harm it “causes” is underestimated, but as experts (and I, in my own experience) say, it can be just as harmful and have just as much impact on a person as physical violence.

Teenagers are considered the target group of online sexual violence. Siranush Davtyan, psychologist of the Women’s Resource Center, who has worked with abused women and girls for years, is of the same opinion.

“The development of the physical self brings new needs and requirements to adolescents, which is very important. For example, they start looking at themselves in the mirror and see that their secondary sexual characteristics are already developing. It is a proven fact that people who use teenagers for sexual harassment are very familiar with their age characteristics, very often they manipulate the teens by saying, “your body is very nice, let’s meet” or something like that. This is a very traumatic experience for teenagers. In this case, it is very important to have a reliable relationship with their parents, people around them, because we understand that, naturally, if a person understands the age characteristics of a teenager, this fact is also taken into account and manipulated from this point of view, so that the teenager does not tell anyone about it,” says the psychologist.

According to her, the scenario of cases of online sexual violence is usually always similar: from the beginning, they win the teenager’s trust, then resort to threats and blackmail։ “This is a rather cyclic and chain series of actions, where a teenager, in fact, is subjected not only to sexual violence, but also to psychological violence,” emphasizes the psychologist.

Anush Gabrielyan, social worker of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, is also of the opinion that teenage girls are the biggest target group of online sexual violence. “Cyber crimes are an obvious manifestation of sexual harassment and are considered cyber crimes. The phenomenon is indeed very common. In this case, teenagers become the target, because there are issues of trust and various kinds of manipulations there,” she says.

According to Anush, the main difficulty in identifying online sexual violence is that the phenomenon as such is not isolated and can be considered in different contexts, for example as extortion of money in extortion for a threat.

Cyber security is now dealing with online violence. According to Anush, the main difficulty in this matter is to identify the online abuser. At the same time, as the social worker notes, there is often a question of will by law enforcement agencies։ “Technology allows us to identify the abuser very often. For example, we had a case where photos of a girl were shared from a fake user account. The girl contacted the police and they said they could not identify who owned the fake account. However, the girl found out who it was, but the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. This case is very typical of our situation, because when the girl said she was going to contact the police, the abuser said, “I have nothing to lose, you have.” And, indeed, it was true։ everyone in the community learned about it, as a result of which the girl is now looking for options to change the community, while the abuser lives peacefully in the same community, and really has not lost anything,” Anush Gabrielyan notes with sadness.

Society usually blames the survivor, effectively exonerating the abuser. In such a society, they often don’t speak out about what happened to them, even if they want to. And if the violence happens online, they won’t take it seriously at all, declaring that “you complicate everything, it’s not a big deal.” Thus, victims of violence are usually left alone with their fears and pain.

In the second part of the essay, we will present the consequences of online sexual violence, also ways of overcoming them.


Yelena Sargsyan

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