Disclosure Response Team, Health and Wellbeing

Online Harassment: It’s Not a Game

Cardiff University has a zero tolerance policy for violence and abuse. We are committed to educating and preventing against violence and abuse on campus. Please read on for more information about online harassment and accessing support.

Social networking has the power to bring people together from all corners of the world. It has a great potential to promote human rights and provides a platform for freedom of expression, to create and exchange content and ideas. However, due to a phenomenon known as the ‘online disinhibition effect’, social networking has become a vehicle for online harassment. The perceived anonymity, lack physical proximity, and lack of eye contact, equate to a detached and psychologically distant means of interaction, allowing the perpetrator to say things they probably wouldn’t in person.

While females are disproportionately affected by online harassment, in particular online sexual harassment, it is not uncommon for males to be affected also. The Pew online harassment study, based on a survey of nearly 3,000 Internet users last June, found that 44 percent of men and 37 percent of women had experienced some form of online abuse, from name-calling to physical threats and stalking. No matter who you are, you do not deserve to experience violence and abuse and if you choose to seek to support, you will be listened to and believed.

Did you know?

The majority of survivors that have been affected by online harassment reportedly knew their harasser. Most forms of social networking are used as a platform for abuse online, including YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Email, and even LinkedIn. You might not be surprised to learn that Facebook is reportedly the top location of online harassment.

Sexual harassment

While physical actions may not be possible with online sexual harassment, words and images can be sent through the Internet and potentially cause serious harm. The platforms for delivering such harassment can vary a great deal. Sexual harassment online can be done in relative anonymity. The Internet provides  numerous opportunities for harassment in which the perpetrator may or may not know the victim. This has been known be done at random, often by spamming e-mail and instant messenger addresses. But the intimate nature of the crime can make what is a non-detached act selective and personal. This is #NotOn.

Online sexual harassment has the potential to get even further out of hand in shared spaces such as forums or YouTube. A mob mentality can occur where a large group collectively harasses an individual, with inappropriate ‘jokes’ and comments. It is not on to harass someone, whether it is just you or you are one of many.

Below, Ashley Judd calls for everyone, from citizens of the internet to law enforcement and legislators to recognise the offline harm of online harassment. The comments have been disabled on this Youtube video because TED states that ‘Youtube’s comment moderation tools are simply not up to the task’ of restricting online misogyny. Talks like these often attract misogynists who see it as an opportunity to continue harassing others.

However, sexual harassment cannot be restricted to a solely a misogynistic crime. Instead, it is a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against an individual expressed in a sexually abusive manner. With accessible, global online platforms, anyone can be a target and anyone can be a perpetrator.  The good part? Social networking sites are cracking down on users who harass others online, and nothing is ever really anonymous. The consequences of sexually harassment can cost you, so have respect for others when online.

I’m not sure if I’ve experienced online harassment…

There are various forms of behaviour that constitute online harassment including:

1. Stalking

Stalking typically involves threatening behaviour in which the perpetrator repeatedly seeks contact with a victim via either:

  • Persistent unwanted digital contact
  • Or, by using the net as a tool to physically stalk someone (tracking movements, hacking into accounts)

Especially with new extensions of the Snapchat App such as SnapMaps, stalking has potentially become more viable. It is not the App itself that is the issue, but that the default setting is not set to the privacy mode. An unknowing user could be traced globally by any other Snapchat user. This would not be so much of a concern if the agreement to publicise the user’s location was made explicit the moment the app is downloaded. The impact of digital stalking via social networks can range from mild intimidation and loss of privacy to serious physical harm and psychological damage.

2. Hate crime

Hate-crimes are targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice towards that person’s:

  • disability
  • race or ethnicity
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation
  • transgender identity

3.  Sextortion

Sextortion is where a person is sexually exploited by extorting a nude image that they shared on the Internet. Quite often, a harasser coerces the victim into performing sexual acts, including hardcore pornography. Sextortion is essentially a form of blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to force sexual favours from someone else.  Social media, webcam recordings and text messages are often the source of the sexual material as well as the threatened means of sharing it with others. Prosecution comes under various criminal statutes, including:

  • Extortion
  • Bribery
  • Breach of trust
  • Corruption
  • Sexual coercion
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Sexual assault
  • Computer hacking

4. Sexting

Sexting is any digital form of communication to send a sexual image to another individual using a mobile phone, app, or e-mail. There is nothing wrong with the act of sexting, that is, when it is consensual. To send or receive an unsolicited sexual image can be interpreted as sexual harassment to the receiver.

5. Revenge pornography

Revenge porn is essentially a form of outing, however it generally refers to the uploading of sexually explicit material to humiliate and intimidate an ex-partner who has broken off the relationship. The sexually explicit images or video may not have been consented to and may be made without their knowledge. The material is usually accompanied by sufficient information to identify the person being victimised. Typically information such as names, locations, and even links to social media profiles, home addresses and workplaces are leaked. The consequential social devastation of this can lead to further harm such as workplace discrimination,  stalking or physical attack. Many people affected by revenge porn have lost their jobs, struggle to find new employment, and devastated their life. In April 2015, it became a crime in England and Wales to post revenge porn. For background information on this offence, produced by the Crown Prosecution Service, please click here.

Above is the story of Chrissy Chambers, a popular YouTuber and a victim of revenge porn. This is her story and her search for justice over her ex boyfriend. Revenge porn is a criminal offence.

The effects of online harassment…

Just because online harassment does not include physical contact with the perpetrator does not mean it is not as threatening or frightening as any other type of crime. Those affected might experience psychological trauma, as well as physical and emotional reactions as a result of their victimisation. Possible effects of online harassment include:

  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Nightmares
  • Hypervigilance
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Fear for safety
  • Shock and disbelief

WE KNOW, violence and abuse affects our students. IT’S NOT ON, and we are addressing it. WE CAN HELP, our Disclosure Response Team offer practical support. YOU CAN HELP, recognise the signs, tell us if you know a student is at risk.


If you think you may have been affected by online harassment, please don’t hesitate to seek support. Please screenshot everything and consider one of the many different methods of reporting online harassment16.

The Disclosure Response Team:
Let us know using the online disclosure tool.
email: disclosureresponseteam@cardiff.ac.uk
hours: Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 16:30
phone: 029 2087 4844
out of hours: 0808 8010 800 (Live Fear Free Helpline)
search: ‘Violence and Abuse’ on the student Intranet for more.


As an individual, you have the power to affect real change by leading by example. You can play your part by:

  • Refusing to stay silent when you see online harassment.
  • Consciously challenge your stereotypical beliefs on sex, gender, and traditional roles associated with both
  • Speak up for what you believe in!
  • Become an empowered bystander. The Bystander Effect states that we are less likely to intervene and help someone when part of a crowd. As the number of people present increase, the responsibility is diffused and often this results in someone being left helpless. 

Your feedback and help please

Have you found this blog post useful?  Please help us by commenting in the comments bar below, and  if there is anything further you’d like to know ask your questions there too.

We’d also be grateful if you can share this information by re-tweeting or sharing with your fellow students who may find this useful – you can do this by using the share buttons or via twitter and facebook.


Best wishes,

Nichola (Placement Student) and Sophie (HEFCE Marketing Project Lead),
Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Team.


Your Student Life, Supported.

The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice and MoneyCareers and EmployabilityCounselling, Health and WellbeingDisability and Dyslexia and International Student Support.

The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus.

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