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Survey: victims' experiences of online harms

To better understand the lived victim experience of 'online harms', the Victims’ Commissioner is inviting individuals who live in England and Wales to take part in an anonymous survey.

SURVEY EXTENDED: Survey closes on Sunday 27 February.

In a world where we’re increasingly reliant on all things digital, new government legislation is being proposed to try and make the internet safer. This will be in the form of the government’s Online Safety Bill.

It is important the victims’ voice is considered by lawmakers when they are shaping this legislation. The Victims’ Commissioner is keen to hear from victims about their experiences online.

Have you been a victim of online abuse and harassment? Whether you reported it or not, we’d like to hear from you.

Taking part in our survey will help us understand the types of online harms victims experience, how it made you feel, what actions you took in response and what you think government can do to help. Your responses will be anonymous. We will publish the findings and use them to develop policy recommendations.

The survey

The survey is expected to run for four weeks, from 20 January to 20 February 2022 (now extended until 27 February 2022).

The survey should take around 15 minutes to complete. You can save your answers and return to the survey at another time. You will be anonymous (not able to be identified) in our reporting, whether or not you choose to give us your contact details at the end of this set of questions.

We would like to hear from anyone who has experienced the following types of abuse, in particular: intimate image abuse, online harassment and stalking, coercive behaviour, cyberbullying and trolling and any form of online hate.

How we will use your responses
We will analyse the information you provide and publish a report on the findings which we hope will add victims’ voices to the debate.

The survey is anonymous, but at the end we ask if you would be willing to give an email address to be contacted for future research by the Victims’ Commissioner (for example, an interview). 

Please see this Privacy Policy which explains how the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner collects, uses and shares personal information.

Barriers to completing the survey
We are keen to hear from everyone who wants to complete this survey, including parents or carers of children who have been a victim. If you support someone who has been a victim who would like to respond but can’t do so because of language, age, lack of internet access or other barriers, you are welcome to fill in the survey with them (or in the case of children, for them).  Alternatively, you can contact us at victims.commissioner@victimscommissioner.org.uk if you would like to request the survey in a different format. 

At the end of the survey we ask a question about these barriers. Your answers will help us improve future surveys.

What are online harms?

The digital world presents huge opportunities for individuals to connect, socialise and engage with online communities. But it is also associated with significant and growing risks. There is increasing concern about harmful content and activity online. This includes cyberbullying, material promoting violence and self-harm, and hate crime.

Online harms are behaviours online which may hurt a person physically or emotionally. This can happen across any device that's connected to the internet, including computers, tablets and mobile phones. It could be harmful information that is posted online, or information sent to a person. There is growing evidence of the scale of harmful content and activity that people experience online and online services can be a tool for abuse and bullying, and they can be used to undermine civil discourse.

For the purposes of this survey, online harms include, but are not limited to:
  • image-based sexual abuse
  • online coercive behaviour
  • online harassment
  • cyber-stalking
  • cyber-bullying or trolling
  • online hate crime
  • doxing
  • online impersonation
  • online threats of physical and/or sexual violence
  • accounts hacked or controlled
  • brigading

The Online Safety Bill

The government is currently developing a bill to introduce before parliament on online harms: the Online Safety Bill.

The Online Safety Bill will establish a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online to keep people safe when accessing the internet. The draft bill includes changes to put an end to harmful practices, such as grooming, revenge porn, hate speech, images of child abuse and posts relating to suicide and eating disorders. The core proposal is for a new statutory duty of care, enforced by an independent regulatory body, which is now confirmed to be Ofcom.

The Online Harm proposals were first set out in the Online Harms White Paper published in April 2019. An interim consultation report was published in February 2020 and a full consultation report was published in December 2020. This resulted in the draft Online Safety Bill, which was published in May 2021.

This was then scrutinised by the joint parliamentary committee, who published their response in December 2021. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will now consider this report and make a final decision on what to include, with a view to presenting it back to Parliament around March 2022.

The Victims' Commissioner

The Victims’ Commissioner acts independently of the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to champion the rights of victims and make sure they are treated fairly and correctly by the criminal justice system. The Commissioner does not have the power in law or the resource to examine and champion individual cases.

Read more about the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales.

Contact us if you have any further questions.