Child watching something on a laptop in the dark

Government urged to bolster Online Safety Bill to tackle sexual harassment in schools

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The upcoming Online Safety Bill needs to do more to protect children from abuse by preventing the spread of inappropriate content across multiple platforms, says children's charity the NSPCC.

Ofsted recently carried out a review into sexual harassment in schools which found that 9 in 10 girls had suffered sexist name-calling and being sent unwanted explicit pictures or videos.

Its inspectors were also told that boys talk about whose ‘nudes’ they have and share them among themselves like a ‘collection game’, typically on platforms like WhatsApp or Snapchat.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said the Government must extend legislation to stop children in the UK from accessing pornography wherever it is hosted on the internet.

“Peer abuse doesn’t just happen in the school corridors and classrooms and it’s significant that Ofsted has recognised the need for Government action against the amount of harm that takes place online,” he said.

“The review highlighted how children use different apps to record and share abuse, jumping easily from Snapchat to WhatsApp, but the draft Online Safety Bill fails to adequately address how risks spread rapidly across platforms.

“Ministers must up their ambition if regulation is to tackle preventable online harm and abuse.

“They can start by compelling firms to work together to deliver systemic protections and extend the legislation so it stops children from accessing pornography, whether on social media or commercial sites.”

Ofsted’s review recommended that schools act on the assumption that sexual harassment is affecting their pupils, and take a whole-school approach to addressing the issues and create a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated.

The first draft of the Online Safety Bill was finally published in May following a series of delays. It proposes significant fines for companies which fail to deal with online abuse and places the duty of care on them, forcing them to take timely action to removal illegal content.

Ofsted urged the Government to consider the findings of its review as it develops the Online Safety Bill, in order to strengthen online safeguarding controls for children and teenagers.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of child online safety charity the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), said it is time to see safeguarding in places we expect it most.

“We fear easy access to pornography from a young age may lead to the societal normalisation of sexual violence or behaviours,” she said.

“We would like to see greater safeguards put in place to make sure children can be kept as safe as possible while online.

“As the latest figures from Ofcom show, we are all more reliant on the internet to live our daily lives.”

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