Safeguarding: How to avoid victim-blaming language in schools

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Guidance on how to avoid victim-blaming language and behaviours when supporting children who have been abused or exploited online has been published.

The 18-page non-statutory document has been produced by the UK Council for Internet Safety and is aimed at helping those working in schools and other settings to respond appropriately when discussing the online experiences of students.

Advice from the guidance can also be incorporated into schools’ safeguarding and child protection policies.

The guidance says that victim-blaming language or behaviour can be especially dangerous for young people who often feel they are to blame for what has happened to them. We can unwittingly reinforce these feelings of blame.

The guidance states: “One of the greatest barriers to a child or young person seeking help and reporting online abuse is feeling they are to blame for something that has happened to them.”

The UK Council for Internet Safety states: “Victim-blaming is any language or action that implies (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that a person is partially or wholly responsible for abuse that has happened to them. It is harmful and can wrongfully place responsibility, shame or blame onto a victim, making them feel that they are complicit or responsible for the harm they have experienced.”

Direct victim-blaming responses may include blaming the young person for sharing images in the first place, blaming the victim for accepting friend requests from abusers, or blaming the victim for failing to block or report perpetrators.

Other responses to avoid include taking a young person’s device from them, delivering online safety education immediately after a disclosure, or criticising the young person’s response and telling them what they should have done instead.

The guidance adds: “Positive responses (where victim-blaming attitudes are not present) can reduce feelings of post-traumatic stress, depression, and health issues which a young person may experience as a result of abuse occurring. They can also encourage other children and young people to report their online experiences.”

The guidance comes amid warnings over a sharp increase in the number of children being groomed online and coerced into creating “self-generated” images.

In the first half of 2022, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) received reports of almost 78,000 webpages of child abuse imagery including so-called “self-generated” content – an increase on the same period in 2021.

Of these, more than 56,000 contained images of 11 to 13-year-olds. Meanwhile, the worrying spike in imagery showing children estimated to be aged 7 to 10 has continued. In the first half of 2020, there were 4,300 webpages featuring this age group, rising to almost 12,000 last year and now to almost 20,000 in 2022.

The UK Council for Internet Safety adds: “This guidance helps professionals to understand that children can never be expected to predict, pre-empt or protect themselves from abuse, and irrespective of the content or circumstance, the responsibility always lies with the person who abused the child or young person.

“The guidance also offers practical steps to help professionals practice and advocate for an anti-victim blaming approach, in a constructive and supportive way.”

The guidance includes advice on what victim-blaming looks like, key principles for challenging it, and some discussion scenarios to help colleagues put it all into practice.

  • UK Council for Internet Safety: Guidance: Challenging victim blaming language and behaviours when dealing with the online experiences of children and young people, October 2022:

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