David Finkelhor, Ph.D.

A new UNH-assisted report published today by the World Health Organization (WHO), What works to prevent online violence against children, presents ways to address the growing worldwide concern of keeping children safe online. UNH staff connected to the Crimes against Children Research Center compiled the research and authored two versions of the report along with colleagues at WHO and the Queensland University of Technology.

The report highlights the importance of implementing educational programmes directed at children and parents. Studies have shown the effectiveness of such programmes in reducing the levels of victimization and perpetration along with a wide variety of childhood risks such as delinquency, substance use, bullying and risky sexual behavior.

The report recommends implementing school-based educational programmes that have multiple sessions, promote interaction among youth and engage parents. It also underscores the importance of training youth in specific life skills such as assertiveness, empathy, problem-solving, emotion management and help seeking, among others. Moreover, educational programmes are more successful when they use multiple and varied delivery formats such as videos, games, posters, infographics and guided discussions.

The report cites evidence that comprehensive forms of sex education can reduce physical and sexual aggression, in particular dating and partner violence and homophobic bullying. The effectiveness of sex education has been confirmed in countries of all income levels.

The report also highlights the need for improvements in several areas including:

  • the need for more violence prevention programs that integrate content about online dangers with offline violence prevention, given the overlap of these problems and the common approaches to prevention
  • less emphasis on stranger danger as strangers are not the sole or even the predominant offenders in online violence against children
  • more emphasis on acquaintance and peer perpetrators, who are responsible for a majority of offenses
  • more attention to healthy relationship skills, since romance and intimacy-seeking are major sources of vulnerability to online violence.

Director of the Crimes against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, one of the authors said, “There is a lot of valuable scientific information that hasn’t yet been fully incorporated into the design of prevention strategies for online safety. This report should make those insights more available to program developers.”