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Government urged to strengthen online safety law to tackle sexual harassment in schools

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

Ofsted recently conducted a study of sexual harassment in schools, which found that 9 out of 10 girls had experienced sexist swear words and were sent unwanted explicit photos or videos.

The inspectors were also told that guys talk about whose “naked” they have and share it among themselves as a “collection game”, usually on platforms such as WhatsApp or Snapchat.

Andy Burrows, head of online child safety policy at the NSPCC, said the government should expand legislation to prevent children in the UK from accessing pornography wherever it is hosted on the internet.

“Peer abuse doesn’t just happen in school hallways and classrooms and it is significant that Ofsted has recognized the need for government action to address the amount of harm that is happening online,” he said.

“The review highlighted how children use different apps to capture and share abuse, easily jumping from Snapchat to WhatsApp, but the concept of the online safety law does not adequately capture the way risks spread quickly across platforms.

“Ministers need to step up their ambition if regulation is to tackle avoidable online harm and abuse.

“They can start by forcing companies to work together to provide systemic protections and extend legislation to keep children from accessing pornography, whether on social media or on commercial sites.”

Ofsted’s assessment recommended that schools act on the assumption that sexual harassment affects their students, and take a school-wide approach to address the issues and create a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated.

The first draft of the online security law was finally published in May after a series of delays.

It proposes hefty fines to companies that fail to deal with online abuse and imposes a duty of care on them, forcing them to take timely action to remove illegal content.

Ofsted urged the government to consider the findings of its assessment when developing the online safety law, to strengthen online safety controls for children and teens.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the charitable organization Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), said it’s time for protection where we expect it most.

“We fear that easy access to pornography from an early age could lead to the societal normalization of sexual violence or behavior,” she said.

“We would like to see more precautions taken to ensure that children can be kept as safe as possible online. “As the latest figures from Ofcom show, we are all more dependent on the internet to run our daily lives.”