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REPORT: LGBTQ+ Minors Three Times More Likely to Experience Unwanted and Risky Online Interactions Than Their Peers

June 7, 2023

5 Minute Read

LOS ANGELESJune 7, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — New research from Thorn, a nonprofit that builds technology to defend children from sexual abuse, finds that LGBTQ+ youth place enormous importance on online communities as places for exploration and perceived safety – but these platforms also carry an increased risk of harm and risky encounters.

According to the report, LGBTQ+ participants not only view the likelihood of online harm occurring as higher than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, but they are between one-and-a-half to two times more likely to have already lived through prior experiences of unwanted or risky interactions online, such as receiving unsolicited nudes, getting blackmailed or having had an adult attempt to befriend or manipulate them online.

The report, LGBTQ+ Youth Perspectives: How LGBTQ+ Youth are Navigating Exploration and Risks of Sexual Exploitation Online, aims to shed light on how LGBTQ+ youths’ online habits and preferences are distinct from those of their non-LGBTQ+ peers, how they view risk and danger online, and how their gender/sexual identity and status may impact their likelihood of a negative online encounter, including online harms and threats such as receiving and sharing self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM).

The research’s key findings include: 

  • LGBTQ+ minors seek out online spaces for community. Young LGBTQ+ people spend more time in digital spaces and tend to maintain more online-only relationships than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. More than three out of four LGBTQ+ minors view their online communities as essential to them, suggesting that digital platforms act as tools for increased exploration for young LGBTQ+ people and at earlier ages.

  • LGBTQ+ minors were almost twice as likely to report sharing their own SG-CSAM (nude) photos or videos. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ respondents were more likely to report their friends have received unsolicited nudes, shared their own nudes, and have had experiences with their nudes being leaked without permission. Across all age groups involved in the study, LGBTQ+ participants reported higher rates of experiences with sexually-explicit imagery among their friendship groups than non-LGBTQ participants.

  • Online grooming is viewed as common. Among all participants, with little difference between teens and young adults, the overwhelming majority (83%) view the likelihood of adults attempting to befriend and manipulate a minor online as at least somewhat common. Views of this risk are even higher among LGBTQ+ teens, with 91% viewing this experience as at least somewhat common.

  • Nearly 1 in 3 participants reported having a secondary account on the same platform — sometimes referred to as a “finsta” — and frequently to create more independence from their offline communities. Among minors, LGBTQ+ respondents were twice as likely as non-LGBTQ+ respondents to have a secondary account (36% vs. 18%) and had more contacts they only knew online and fewer contacts who they knew offline. Across all respondents, the leading reason reported for maintaining a secondary account was to keep activity private from parents.

  • LGBTQ+ teens are 10 points more likely to try and handle feeling unsafe online on their own. Cis non-hetero male teens are particularly vulnerable, with nearly one-half reporting they would try to handle feeling unsafe on their own. Among LGBTQ+ teens choosing not to report risky online decisions to their caregivers, 1 in 6 cited outness concerns as a factor. For 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ teens, concerns about being cut off from their online community play a role.

“This research makes clear what we already knew to be true: LGBTQ+ minors face unique and increased online risks, including exposure to child sexual abuse material, potentially leading to greater isolation,” said Julie Cordua, CEO of Thorn. “We must recognize and address these risks while providing caregivers and peers with resources for open conversations and equipping children to protect themselves and their friends. Moreover, we must recognize the often heightened significance of online relationships within the LGBTQ+ community and find ways to empower them to explore these essential connections safely.”

Studying how young LGBTQ+ individuals handle online risks can aid in creating better interventions and protections against harmful experiences, particularly regarding sexual abuse, like the non-consensual sharing of explicit images or online grooming. This report shows that conversations surrounding the intersection of technology and sexual experiences or other online risks are much less frequently discussed within families when compared to other pivotal topics such as puberty, mental health, and bullying.

To address the gap in these critical conversations, Thorn for Parents helps parents and caregivers facilitate earlier, more frequent, and judgment-free conversations with kids about digital safety. This digital resource hub brings caregivers face-to-face with the reality that digital safety conversations need to start much younger than they may think.

In addition, Thorn’s NoFiltr youth program equips young people with the knowledge to recognize and navigate potentially risky online experiences and encourages healthy and informed conversations directly between youth. It underscores the importance of having them more often to help guide kids through these complicated topics with understanding, empathy, and support.

Read the full report: LGBTQ+ Youth Perspectives: How LGBTQ+ Youth are Navigating Exploration and Risks of Sexual Exploitation Online


This research was conducted by Thorn in partnership with Benenson Strategy Group, and consisted of two phases . Phase 1 involved a series of online diary entries made by 24 LGBTQ+ 13- to 17-year-olds on three occasions over the course of a week in March 2022. The preliminary insights gleaned from these diary entries were then used to inform Phase 2. Phase 2 consisted of an 18-minute online survey administered to a nationally representative sample of 1,662 youths aged 13 to 20 from July to August 2022.

About Thorn

Thorn is a nonprofit that builds technology to defend children from sexual abuse. Thorn creates products that identify child victims faster, provides services for the tech industry to play a proactive role in detecting, identifying, and reporting abuse content from their platforms, and works directly with youth and communities to build resilient kids. Learn more about Thorn’s mission to build technology to defend children from sexual abuse at

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