It is important that schools, colleges, and universities take measures to prevent and tackle online abuse of both students and staff. Online abuse of members of sexual and gender minorities should be viewed as a problem for the whole community and not just the individuals involved. All members of the community (leaders, teachers, staff, students and parents) have rights and responsibilities in relation to online abuse and need to work together to create an environment where students can learn and develop and staff can work in environment free from abuse and harassment
How can educators help prevent LGBTQ+ abuse online?
The harassment and exclusion of sexual and gender minorities in educational settings is a global problem but there are various simple steps you can take to mitigate against this. It is important that those working in educational settings are aware of the challenges experienced by LGBTQ+ people, and the potential impacts online discrimination can have on students who may identify as a sexual and/or gender minority, or who have guardians, family, and/or friends who are part of the LGTBQ+ community. Schools and colleges should ensure that staff undertake LGBTQ+ inclusivity training, and that they develop an inclusive curriculum which includes comprehensive and age-appropriate information regarding sexuality and diverse gender identities and relationships. Resource packs can be accessed from Stonewall and Diversity Role Models to teach students (and staff) about the impact and consequences of discrimination, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
Given that online abuse may take place in educational settings, educators should encourage all members of the community to use SNS responsibly. Having clear and understandable policies in place which outline acceptable use of technologies is one way to do this. Educators can also offer support to parents, on how to help young people engage with social media safely, via newsletters, parents’ evenings, or via bespoke workshops and events. Parents and educators can find support and information about LGBTQ+ issues for young people from Mermaids, Just Like Us, and Think2Speak. Educational settings should ensure staff and students know how to report abuse; perhaps by appointing one person who is responsible for dealing with online abuse.
What to do in the event of abuse
Report the matter to the social networking site if it breaches their terms. You could seek guidance from the local authority, legal advisers or support from other agencies such as, The UK Safer Internet Centre. If the abuse constitutes a hate crime, then you may consider contacting the local police. Above all, your students and employees need to know that you recognise and understand their victimisation, that you take the matter seriously and that you will offer them support and guidance.