University of Leicester

File(s) under permanent embargo

Reason: The transcripts contain interviews and focus group data with children aged 13-18. The data is used for the research team's purpose and is not meant to be publicly available.

Combatting gendered, sexual risks and harms online during Covid-19: Developing resources for young people, parents and schools.

posted on 2023-10-11, 13:21 authored by Kaitlynn MendesKaitlynn Mendes, Jessica RingroseJessica Ringrose, Tanya Horeck, Elizabeth Milne

This study sought to assess the impact of COVID-19 and social isolation on young people's experiences of online sexual risks and gendered harms during a period of increased reliance on screens. Through surveys, and focus group interviews with young people (ages 13-21) and parents/carers, and teachers, the study addressed gaps in knowledge by exploring young people's differing experiences of online sexual harassment during Covid-19, in relation to gender (girls, boys, gender non-conforming), sexuality (LGBTQI+) and other intersecting identities. 


We administered an online survey to 551 teens of all genders (aged 13-18), 72 parents/carers, and 47 teachers, safeguarding leads and/or school staff across schools in England. These surveys were disseminated between May and September 2021 by our charitable partner, School of Sexuality Education (SSE). The survey for teens asked participants about their experiences of online sexual and gendered risk and harm during COVID-19, and the survey for parents/carers asked participants about their understanding of social media platforms (e.g. TikTok, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), and awareness of their children’s experiences of online sexual and gendered risk and harm online during COVID-19. The survey for teachers asked questions around their students’ experiences with a range of digital harassment and abuse (including technology facilitated gender-based violence), any training they received, and if their schools have policies dealing with these issues. 

Focus Groups and Interviews:

Enacting a rigorous mixed methodology we simultaneously used a combination of focus groups and individual interviews with teens, school staff/safeguards, and parents/carers from May-July 2021 immediately following three major UK lockdowns. We conducted 17 focus groups with 65 teens and 29 individual follow-up interviews with this sample in five comprehensive secondary schools across England.  The youth focus groups were arranged according to year group and self-identified gender and included two to six participants. Most groups were either all girls or all boys with one mixed gender group aligning to a pre-existing friendship group. 

Focus groups used arts-based methodologies and began with an ice-breaker activity where participants were asked to write down or draw something positive and negative about social media (including gaming platforms), using templates we provided. Template options included blank display screens of Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Yubo, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and PS5. After 5 to 10 minutes, participants took turns describing to the group what they wrote down. The researchers then used a focus group guide to ask questions, covering topics related to teens’ online experiences of risk and harm during COVID-19, as well as the gendered dynamics of these experiences. Following the focus groups, we provided teens with the opportunity to participate in follow-up individual interviews, where we elicited more detailed accounts of topics discussed in the focus groups. 

In addition, we conducted a total of 17 interviews with teachers, safeguarding leads and/or school staff in the five research schools. Interviews were designed to inform policy guidance for teachers and education associations on how to improve safety procedures and reporting practices for young people.

We also conducted four online focus groups with parents/carers, with a total of nine parents/carers using a convenience sample. They were not parents of children from the schools in our study. Focus groups explored parents/carers’ knowledge and awareness of social media platforms, and the extent to which parents/carers felt equipped to support their children around sexually abusive or threatening online experiences they may have had on these popular platforms.

After obtaining informed consent, discussions and interviews with students, teachers, and parents/carers were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. To ensure confidentiality, participants used pseudonyms, and transcripts were anonymized. 

The study's central aim is to take this data and develop a set of interactive digital resources that provide accessible and tailored advice and information for young people, teachers, and parents, on how to stay safe online during the pandemic and beyond. 


Combatting gendered, sexual risks and harms online during Covid-19: Developing resources for young people, parents and schools.

UK Research and Innovation

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