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Disclosure and reporting

Minors navigate a myriad of potentially harmful and risky experiences online, ranging from bullying to extreme content to sextortion. As they do, they often grapple with a critical decision: should they tackle these challenges alone or seek help from available resources and communities?

To effectively fight against the online sexual exploitation of minors, we must break the isolation experienced by the victims and make it easier for them to access support.

According to Thorn’s report on YOUTH PERSPECTIVES ON ONLINE SAFETY in 2022:


1 in 5

9-17-year-olds who encountered harmful sexual interactions online chose to keep it to themselves.

Why youth may not disclose harmful sexual interactions

Regarding the desire and ability to seek help, there’s a notable difference between demographic groups. Teens were 2.5 times more likely than 9-12-year-olds to try and handle the situation themselves and LGBTQ+ youth were 9 points more likely than non-LGBTQ+ youth to try and handle the situation themselves.

Nearly half of those who didn’t report such interactions thought they weren’t “a big deal.” Shame and fear of punishment are major barriers to seeking help:



1 in 4

felt embarrassed and worried about being judged

1 in 5

worried about getting in trouble with their family

1 in 5

worried about getting in trouble with the police

1 in 6

felt they were to blame for the situation


Victim blaming is a common issue, with about one-third of minors and half of caregivers tending to blame the minor if their images are leaked without consent.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community face unique considerations when evaluating whether or not to seek support and are less likely to do so than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. Nearly 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ youth would try to handle things alone if they felt unsafe online as compared to the 1 in 5 non-LGBTQ+ youth who said the same. Among LGBTQ+ youth, cis non-hetero male teens were the most likely to say they would try to handle the situation themselves, followed by trans, non-binary, and other non-cisgender youth.

Who teens turn to if exposed to unsafe online experiences or behaviors


Sourced from Thorn

In addition, for


1 in 6

LGBTQ+ youth, concerns about being outed played a role in whether or not they disclosed to their caregivers about a potentially harmful online interaction.

While the threat of negative outcomes and consequences are a common part of helping young people weigh the risks and benefits of their actions as they mature, for many, the risk of negative outcomes serve more as a deterrent to seeking help than having the experience itself.

While assessing risks and benefits is part of youth development, the fear of negative consequences often deters them from seeking help more than the experience itself.

Online safety tools are a first line of defense

Online safety tools serve as a primary defense for minors facing harmful online sexual interactions. Many youth prefer using tools like blocking, reporting, and muting over seeking help from their offline community. In fact, teenagers are about twice as likely to use these online tools than to talk to someone in their real-life network.


Percentage of minors using online safety tools vs. seeking offline support


Sourced from Thorn

I trust my parents but sometimes I don’t trust them in that way because like you said, they don’t have as much experience on social media and stuff. They know about it but they don’t really have personal experience.

– female, 17


Minors view blocking and reporting as distinct and deploy them for different purposes. They are most likely to use blocking and leverage it as a tool for cutting off contact in an attempt to stop future harassment. They use online reporting tools less often, viewing them as more punitive.

However, the majority of minors are also seeking more information about these services within each platform.


of minors said they want platforms to provide better information on how to report, while 82% said they wanted more information on how to block offenders.

Online safety tools do not guarantee safety

Unfortunately, even when minors block or report offenders, it can be insufficient to stop continued harassment. Among minors who have blocked or reported a problematic user, about half reported that the user attempted to recontact them, either on the same platform under a new account or on a different platform.

Additionally, the ability for a perpetrator to either leverage established connections with the victim on other platforms or track them down on other surfaces creates an uphill battle for users attempting to cut off contact with bad actors.


[T]hey kept messaging me so it was easier to just keep it cordial rather than just blocking them on all sites.

– female, 13

Minors want to turn to their offline communities for support

Although online safety tools such as reporting and blocking provide a first line of defense against online harm kids still want human support to navigate risky situations. However, there is a gap between the desire to turn to trusted friends or adults and the reality of doing so.


40 %
40% of minors say they would turn to a caregiver if they received a nude photo from an adult online.
10 %
40% of minors say they would turn to a caregiver if they received a nude photo from an adult online.
Yet only 10% who experienced this actually did.

In contrast, the majority believe they would block the user, and even more follow through with this action.

Caregivers are the primary offline support for minors, but peers are also a vital yet under-recognized resource. 1 in 5 minors would consider turning to a friend if faced with an online sexual interaction involving an adult, and the difference between those who think they would seek peer support and those who do is smaller than with caregivers.

Although online safety tools provide a first line of defense against harms in online environments, and many minors report forming and maintaining meaningful online friendships, minors still want to turn to their offline communities as they navigate risky situations. A majority (63%) of teens said they would turn to someone they know in person if they felt unsafe online, while only 9% said they would look to find support from someone they only know online.


1 in 4

teens report they would be most likely to try and handle a potentially risky situation alone rather than seek help. This is higher for LGBTQ+ teens, with 1 in 3 reporting the same.

What’s next?

To effectively tackle online sexual exploitation and prevent further harm, the focus should shift from placing responsibility on minors to enhancing platform accountability. It’s essential to ease the burden on young people in seeking and receiving help.

Meeting young people where they are is critical to ensuring they are safe in both their online and offline worlds. Pathways to seeking help must be accessible, relevant, and effective. This means online safety tools exist, are clearly marked, are reasonable to navigate, and are built to be effective at scale. And it means we speak transparently to the types of risks young people are navigating in their digital lives.

Seeking support should not be a matter of choosing between two doors with negative outcomes. Our strategies to support minors navigating online risks must be prioritizing their safety and confidence that abuse is never their fault. Opportunities for improvement exist at various levels—including platforms, caregivers, and peer networks—to break the barriers minors face in seeking help and to enhance the support systems available in dangerous situations.


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