Tip Sheet: Keeping Yourself Safe Online
Being on social media and the internet can offer an experience of anonymity. That can increase the chance that both adults and youth will take risks and experiment with behavior they might never attempt “in real life.”
Maybe you are looking for help because you saw something online that concerned you. Perhaps something that happened recently is a “wake-up call” that your online behavior is getting out of control, or maybe someone in your life found the courage to let you know they are worried about your media consumption.
There are many reasons why someone may initially view harmful or abusive content on digital media. We explain this further in our FAQ: Why would someone watch child pornography (CSAM), but no matter what pathway brought you here, there IS help available for those who feel their online viewing behaviors are starting to feel unmanageable or out of control.
If you have found yourself preoccupied with thoughts about when you might be able to view sexual content, or it has become more difficult to keep promises to yourself or others about your online behaviors, these could be warning signs that that indicate a concern.
The warning signs below may not be directly related to problems with online behavior and could be a result of other things going on in someone’s life. But if you are noticing these signs in yourself now is the time to seek help. With outside support, you can find out more about what is going on and potentially learn about safer online behaviors.
Changes in internet use
- Needing to be online so frequently that it creates problems in one’s family or work life, or within one’s intimate partnerships.
- Increased viewing of consensual adult pornography.
- Deleting browsing history, storing files secretly, or hiding the screen from others’ view when accessing illegal sexual content.
- Sending or showing questionable sexual material to children or teens.
Changes in sexual behavior and/or attitudes
- Changing sexual attitudes and preferences that feel worrisome to oneself or others.
- Withdrawing from intimacy with a partner to spend more time online.
- Having sexual fantasies about minors.
- Shame, regret, or self-hatred in connection to arousal.
Changes in social behavior
- Becoming emotionally checked-out or withdrawing from friends, a partner and/or family.
- Not participating in one’s usual social activities and/or hobbies.
- Neglecting professional or personal responsibilities, or losing a job.
- Losing the trust of loved ones.
- Increased alcohol use or drug abuse, especially if used as a general coping skill to handle stress or challenges.
- Getting in legal trouble.
If you want to quit, but feel you cannot do it alone, there is help
Perhaps some bad things have happened recently as a result of your online sexual behavior. Sometimes the consequences of our behavior help break down our denial and motivate change. Or maybe your level of discomfort with your behavior is motivating you to make a change. Whatever is your motivation, help and support is available.
The first step is to take accountability and get the help that you need. Most adults who struggle with addictive, out of control or at-risk behaviors need help from someone else to stop. Getting help is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness. Once you find the support and professional guidance you need, you will learn ways to replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.
4 things you can do if you are troubled by your own online activity:
- Tell a trusted friend that you are feeling troubled and ask for their support.
- Get connected to professional help through a sex-specific therapist.
- Reach out for peer support through online services linked in the resource guide above.
- Take a break from social media and other online sites that feel unsafe or risky.
What to do if you have concerns about someone else’s behavior online
It can be very troubling to suspect someone we know may be looking at harmful or abusive content, such as child sexual abuse material (CSAM, formerly called child porn). You may find yourself dismissing your concerns and reassuring yourself that this person would never do such a thing. But this is important: If you are worried that someone is behaving in a way that may be harmful to children, take action. This can include:
- Offering to help them access professional help, so they can learn how to successfully change their behavior.
- Remind them that they could be breaking the law, and that watching CSAM is watching the sexual abuse of a child
- Installing internet filters, parent locks, and other safety tools.
- Setting clear rules about how and when internet use is allowed.
- Offering to be their accountability partner - someone they check in with to share success, milestones, and challenges with.
- Encourage finding professional support.
- Reporting to authorities
You may want to talk to your own support network about your concern and the steps you want to take. Stop It Now! can also help you think through your options.
Is it possible to change behaviors?
Absolutely, yes. It is possible – with the right kind of support – to live a happy and fulfilling life, free from harmful or abusive behaviors. For more information on resources and support, please check out the organizations below or reach out to us directly via our free, confidential Helpline.
Get Help: Concerned about your use of the internet? (Stop It Now! UK)
Confidential and anonymous help to individuals worried about their use of the internet who want guidance to increase safety.
The Association for the Treatment and Prevention of Sexual Abuse (ATSA)
A national membership of professionals who specialize in the treatment of adults and youth who are at risk to be or have been sexually abusive.
Anonymous online program for people who would like to reduce their use of CSAM and want professional support. This is part of a study and participation is free of charge, voluntary, and anonymous.