This module aims to help you explore and gain understanding of the following:
- The relationship between your online and offline social lives
- How the internet can be used as a social outlet in your life
- Problematic online relationships
Sexual offending happens in the offline and online world. However, some people we work with often tell us they would not have offended without the internet.
A huge majority of people have access to the internet but not everyone offends online.
Therefore, the internet doesn’t cause offending; people who have engaged in this behaviour online have made a choice to do so. However, it is important to consider how the internet may make offending behaviour easier for some people.
Sex and the Internet
The internet can, to some people, feel like an attractive place to engage in sexual behaviour. But why is that? Some people think the ‘Triple A Engine’ helps answer this question.
‘Triple A Engine’ (Cooper, 1998)
Accessibility – Pornography and sexual experiences are easily accessible online, anytime, day or night.
Anonymity – People may feel that they are anonymous and unknown online. This may result in a person detaching their online behaviour from their offline life and identity.
Affordability – Pornography and sexual experiences online may come at a low cost, or free.
Exercise 1: Sex and the Internet
What other aspects of the internet might make it feel like an attractive place to engage in sexual activity? Use the template to consider, for you, why the Internet became a place for sexual behaviour. Consider the examples below:
Now that you have identified why you used the internet as a place for sexual behaviour, it is important to consider why that might be a problem in some circumstances. Consider the ideas you had above, but now think about what the difficulties with these ideas might be. For example:
Some people we work with report that they behaved in a way online that they wouldn’t have done in the offline world.
The Panopticon was a design of building meaning that one person could observe all those in the building.
It is important to consider how we behave when we feel we might be being observed, compared to how we behave when we think no one is watching.
This can relate to the internet, and how people can feel like they are anonymous and not being watched by others when they are online. This can result in people feeling detached from their online behaviour, as if it is not part of their true self.
How did this relate to you? How did your online behaviour differ from your offline behaviour? Consider how you behave on social media, what you might access or view online, whom you might talk to, and how you might talk to them. There will also be ways you behave online which is the same as offline, and it is important to consider these too. This shows that the online and offline world are not completely separate.
For example, did you seek out sexual material online but not do so offline? Did you communicate with people online that you did not/would not offline? Did you communicate in the same way with others online and offline, for example, in your use of language and your level of politeness?
Exercise 2: My Online and Offline Behaviour
- Why did you behave differently online than you did offline?
- Did your online behaviour have an impact on your offline behaviour, and if so, how?
- Would you like your behaviour online to also happen offline? Why?
- How does considering this help you manage your future online behaviour?
We all have an idea of how we come across to other people. How we act can be affected by the situation we are in and the people we are with. Think about how you might present differently at work compared to being with friends and how this may change again around family members. People have also described feeling that they can be very different online compared to how they are ‘in the real world’.
Offline vs Online
How would you describe yourself offline? (Make a note of all that apply, and any other words which describe you)
How would you describe yourself online? (Make a note of all that apply, and any other words which describe you)
What differences do you note between your online and offline selves? Are there qualities about your online self that you like and wish you could transfer into the real world? Make a note of them and they can be a start point for goals you set in planning for a good life.
So why are we different online?
It is often easier to relate to others online. They may share our interests, support us in a sense of being accepted and make us feel important or powerful. Unless we choose to let others online see us, as we really are, we can pretend to be whoever we want to be. Online relationships in some ways make fewer demands.
So what is the problem with online relationships?
When we engage with others online and form friendships, it is usually around something specific (such as the sexual images of children). It means that a lot of time is then spent focusing on that particular topic, or things related to it (e.g. other software or security). While the friendships that we form online are very real, they have aspects to them that are very different to those offline.
For some people their online relationships act as a substitute for ‘real world’ social interaction. The ease, emotional safety and superficial nature of some people’s online relationships, both sexual and non-sexual, are often not as fulfilling as the more rounded experience offered by people’s offline relationships. Their online relationships are often more fleeting and artificial. This can be especially true of people’s online sexual relationships. Here the focus can easily become exclusively sexual. While for many people this is manageable, for others the desire for short-term sexual pleasure means that they allow themselves to develop patterns of online sexual behaviour that are ultimately damaging to both themselves and others. Many of these activities are legal but others are not. They might include the following:
- chatting to adults about sex with children online i.e. sharing fantasies
- chatting to children about sex online
- using webcams to encourage children to engage in sexual behaviour
- exposing children to sexual behaviour via webcam
- voyeurism (hidden cameras)
- ‘grooming’ children with the intention of meeting them offline and sexually abusing them
Think about your online relationships and answer the following questions:
Exercise 3 – Online & Offline Relationships
|Online Relationships||Offline Relationships|
|Write down how many significant people you have in your online and offline world.|
|What good things do I get out of these?|
|What gaps are they filling in my life?|
|What do these relationships mean to me?|
|What do I enjoy about chatting to these people?|
What do you notice about the online and offline relationships?
Are there some things that you would only discuss/do online? Why is this?
How does this make you feel? Do you see your online relationships differently now?
Some of the dangers of online relationships:
- You don’t get challenged – Talking to like-minded others means that you are unlikely to be challenged in what you say.
- Talking to other people can help you to justify what you’re doing “they’re doing it, so why shouldn’t I?”.
- It may provide you with the opportunity to do things that in the offline world would make you feel very uncomfortable.
Exercise 4 – What do I look for in “real life” relationships?
List the things you VALUE about real life relationships and then what ACTIONS could you take to achieve these.
|Intimacy||Express how I feel more|
|Time together||Join a weekly salsa class together|
Some people don’t have as many offline relationships as they would like. If this applies to you then this will be covered in more detail in the planning for a good life module. If you feel lonely then the following exercise can be helpful to start thinking about how you have been coping with those feelings and how you can cope more positively in the future.
Exercise 5 – How do I cope with isolation or loneliness?
|Situation or Event||NEGATIVE
Strategy / behaviour
Including thoughts and feelings
Strategy / behaviour
Including thoughts and feelings
|Living alone. Feeling isolated.||Going online into chat rooms, engaging in sexual chat. Felt excited at first but afterwards guilty and ashamed.||Take Spanish lessons. Feel scared at first session but afterwards happy.|
Now, consider the following questions:
- Which part of the module has had the greatest impact on your understanding? Why?
- Has anything from this module prompted or encouraged you to take action around your behaviour? If so, what?
- Has this module raised any further questions for you or made you want to explore any ideas further? What steps do you plan to take to seek out this information?
If you want to discuss anything covered in this module, have struggled with working through the self-help material or just want the opportunity to work through the self-help site with a practitioner to guide you then please call the Stop It Now! helpline for confidential support from our trained staff.