UK

Almost half of young females have been subjected to abusive behaviour

Almost half of girls under 10 say they have suffered abusive behaviour such as mean comments in the past year

  • Girlguiding claims nearly half of girls aged seven – ten experienced ‘online harm’
  • Of these, almost a fifth encountered someone pretending to be someone else
  • While one in ten of the girls said they had been the recipient of obscene images


Almost half of girls aged seven to ten have experienced at least one form of ‘online harm’ – such as being subjected to mean comments – in the past year, according to Girlguiding.

Of these almost a fifth said they had encountered a person pretending to be someone else, while one in ten said they had seen obscene pictures.

Levels of exposure to online harm rose as girls got older. Overall 71 per cent said they had experienced it, including 73 per cent aged 11-16 and 91 per cent aged 17-21.

One in four of those aged 11-21 said they had been sent unwanted sexual images, half had received sexist comments and almost a third had been harassed.

Almost half of girls aged seven to ten have experienced at least one form of ‘online harm’ – such as being subjected to mean comments – in the past year, according to Girlguiding (stock image)

The findings come in Girlguiding’s annual girls’ attitudes survey, based on polling of 2,114 aged between seven and 21 between March and April.

Disabled and LGBTQ girls and women were more likely to experience online harm, the survey found.

The findings show happiness levels are declining ‘dramatically’, particularly among younger girls, exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Overall, two-thirds of girls said they were feeling more sad, anxious or worried than in 2018.

Just a quarter of seven to ten-year-olds said they feel ‘very happy most of the time’, down from 43 per cent.

Girlguiding member and advocate Amanda, 17, said she was not surprised by the findings, which show a ‘devastating trend in declining happiness’.

‘We’re exposed to more and more pressures, both online – from harassment to images portraying unrealistic ideals of perfection – and as a result of the pandemic and the disruption it’s brought to everyday life.

‘Pressures like these are directly impacting the confidence and happiness of girls and young women in the UK.’

Of these almost a fifth said they had encountered a person pretending to be someone else, while one in ten said they had seen obscene pictures (stock image)

Of these almost a fifth said they had encountered a person pretending to be someone else, while one in ten said they had seen obscene pictures (stock image)

Girlguiding chief executive Angela Salt said society must listen and act in the interest of girls to avoid a ‘lost generation’.

She said: ‘Girls’ mental health has been significantly impacted. Online harms have been exacerbated.

‘It’s critical that we address the decline in girls’ happiness that we’ve observed since we started this research over a decade ago.

‘I’m proud that Girlguiding has provided invaluable support for girls’ mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic and into recovery – helping to build confidence, resilience and giving them a space to have fun, adventures and develop their skills.

‘But society must do more to address this worrying downward trend.’

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