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Online Harms

The online world presents huge opportunities for finding purpose, connection, and community. But it also presents significant risks; it is a fast-moving space and the risks of online grooming and exposure to violence and trauma are rapidly growing.

Before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, knife crime and serious violence were on the rise, and the risk of young people being exposed to harmful content shared online was growing. Across Catch22’s services, 97% of our child criminal and sexual exploitation referrals involve some type of online harm.

At the same time, particularly over the last two years, young people have relied on the internet for their education and to maintain friendships. Many of them have built entire communities and launched their careers online too.

There is an urgent need to recognise what young people want to see to make for a safer online world – one in which they can thrive.

Find out more about the work we are doing in this area:

“In our schools and community services, across victim support and child exploitation work, we are seeing more and more young people relying on the internet and the platforms that go with it, and reporting disturbing behaviour online.

“There are is still a huge lack of knowledge in this space and at a time when we need the huge benefits of an online world – connectivity, a sense of community, and access to education – we must do what we can to stay one step ahead of the risks and keep young people safe.”

Chris Wright, Catch22, Chief Executive

Children and Young Peoples’ Experiences of Online Harms: ‘Acceptable Use’ and Regulation

Few expected young people to become so reliant on the internet for their education and for their connection throughout the pandemic. With this has come increased risk to young people – in terms of exposure to harmful content, the offline harms that come with this, and the reduced supervision many vulnerable children have over their online activity.

The Catch22 Online Harms Consultation was launched in 2020 and revealed that more than 70% of young people have seen content online that they found concerning, referring to violent and explicit content. And only 40% were reporting harmful content to the platforms they used.

With support from London’s Violence Reduction Unit, The Social Switch Project was asked to carry out in-depth research to capture the voices of children and young people, as well as professionals and industry representatives. We used this opportunity to explore the impact, implications and consider possible solutions to online harms.

Read the Executive SummaryRead the Findings in full

National Online Harms Consultation

The Catch22 Online Harms Consultation gathered insights from young social media users, tech platforms, youth services and experienced youth workers, to understand how violence and exploitation may be occurring as a result of online behaviour, and how services are, or are not, prepared to prevent and address such harm.

  • 38% of frontline practitioners do not feel sufficiently trained to deal with online behaviour
  • Only 27% of young respondents feel safe online all the time
  • 83% of service managers and commissioners have seen serious harm occur offline because of behaviour content online

View an interactive summary of responses collected by Catch22:

Online Harms Consultation - Catch22

Catch22’s Online Harms offer

Our frontline practitioners, working with children at risk of exploitation, teaching in schools, or offering support in the justice system, are acutely aware of the growing risks. All our services must address the complex interactions of the online and offline world.

Catch22 is focused on building a safer online world through prevention and intervention, and by creating safe ways for young people to communicate, express themselves, and positively connect with their communities, online and offline.

Read Catch22’s Online Harms offer booklet


The Social Switch Project

Catch22 and Redthread have co-delivered The Social Switch Project across Greater London since 2019. The project empowers frontline practitioners who work with young people (such as teachers, youth workers, police officers and social workers) to discuss the challenges and risks of social media. It also works to empower young people to channel their creativity and focus their digital skills on developing sustainable careers, and to inspire positive behaviour online.

Recognising the programme’s impact, the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit is now supporting the next phase of the programme.

“London’s Violence Reduction Unit is focused on addressing the complex causes which lie behind young people becoming involved with, or being victims of violent crime. That’s why we are investing in the Social Switch Project, which supports young people in building their creative and digital skills and which will continue to help many more young Londoners reach their true potential.”

Lib Peck, Director of London’s Violence Reduction Unit 

Staying Safe Online: Poster Hub

For Safer Internet Day 2020, we created posters with tips for professionals working with young people and parents/carers on how you can help young people stay safe online.

Through our delivery of The Social Switch Project in partnership Redthread and funded by, we have been training frontline professionals working with young people, to deal with challenges of online behaviour.

We have collated some of these tips for keeping young people safe online to create printable posters for anyone working with young people as well as parents and carers.

Visit the Poster Hub

Find out more:

For more information on our most-recent work in this area, please visit our News and Campaigns pages.