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Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: Enhancing policies and practice in secondary school sex education to reduce image-based sexual abuse and improve internet safety for teenagers 

Dr Tanya Horeck

ARU research has produced better understanding amongst sex educators, teachers, journalists, creative practitioners and government officials of how to tackle the problem of image-based sexual abuse.

Dr Horeck assisted the non-profit organisation, the School of Sexuality Education, with the creation of digital resources that educate students about relationships and consent. She co-authored a set of policies that provide guidance for UK secondary schools on how to reduce online sexual harassment and improve internet safety for students.

These policies have been utilised by the UK Council for Internet Safety in their official government guidance on how educators should approach the issue of nude image sharing. They have also been endorsed by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), who represent and support over 19,000 UK school and college leaders. 

Tanya Horeck

Dr Tanya Horeck

Tanya is an Associate Professor in Film, Media and Culture and Course Leader for BA (Hons) Media and Communication. Her areas of expertise include digital violence and spectatorship, gender, sexuality, feminism, contemporary popular TV and cinema, theories of violence and affect and crime and representation.

Find out more about Dr Tanya Horeck Explore ARU researchers' original work via our open access repository, ARRO

Research summary

Dr Horeck’s research explores contemporary ‘rape culture’, contributing to an understanding of how digital technologies and communication facilitate new forms of online abuse, while simultaneously being used to challenge sexism, sexual violence, and sexual harassment on and offline. 

Her monograph, Public Rape: Representing Violation in Fiction and Film, pioneers interdisciplinary examination of how political and social conflicts are staged over an image of the raped woman’s body and the ways in which stories and images of sexual abuse circulate across multiple media platforms.

Dr Horeck’s recent research demonstrates how the notion of rape culture is transmitted across internet platforms and digital technologies. ‘Screening Affect: Rape Culture & the Digital Interface in Top of the Lake and The Fall’ is about women in TV crime drama and how ideas about spectatorship, gender roles, and sexual abuse are conveyed through the depiction of digital devices and interfaces which function as sources of both violence and critical detection/resistance. 

The article ‘Streaming Sexual Violence: Binge-watching Rape Culture in 13 Reasons Why’ shows how the popular teen series encourages audiences to engage with its rape storylines according to a user-directed, video game logic that ultimately undermines its attempt to critique how rape culture normalizes violence against women. 

Her research also considers how social media platforms open up opportunities for feminist pedagogy and resistance through, for example, hashtag activism. This has been explored in ‘#askthicke: “Blurred Lines,” Rape Culture, and the Feminist Hashtag Takeover’ which maps out both the potential and the limitations of Twitter as a site for feminist activism. 

Justice on Demand: True Crime in the Digital Streaming Era further explores the spread of societal ideas about crime and social justice in an ‘on-demand’ networked viewing culture. The book examines how new digital protocols are reframing media consumption of the genre, providing audiences with the opportunity to become ‘desktop detectives’ and express their opinions and affective responses to crime narratives across various social media platforms. 

Teenagers lounging around a sofa sharing looks at one of their mobile phone screens

Summary of the impact

  • Produced educational resources for teenagers and those who teach them
  • Disseminated advice on language used to discuss sexual abuse issues
  • Produced comprehensive guidance for schools on dealing with online sexual harassment
  • Changed attitudes to image-based abuse


Dr Horeck advises the educational charity the School of Sexuality Education (SSE) (formerly Sexplain). They work with schools and colleges to provide sessions on sexual education.

SSE used Horeck’s research in their sessions with teenagers on digital defence and self-care throughout 2019-2020. Lesson plans based on her research on rape culture have been delivered to over 1,000 young people across 15 different schools since 2019.

Dr Horeck’s research has also informed how SSE deliver workshops and their training of school staff. School staff expressed a lack of confidence in dealing with cases of online sexual abuse and Dr Horeck has helped to advise them on the language they need to use to discuss such sensitive matters.

Dr Horeck has delivered training on digital literacy and internet safety to teachers, PSHE leaders, students and progress coaches at Long Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge. The school’s Assistant Vice Principal of Student Welfare said the training benefitted the progress coaches who are now more aware of the correct terminology to use when discussing image-based sexual abuse and have learnt new ways of coaching young people in how to stay safe online. 

Dr Horeck enabled SSE to increase their online offering by assisting them in creating ‘Teachable Moments’ worksheets that address key learning points on sex and consent. The resources supported teachers and parents in helping young people gain vital knowledge about consent and image-based abuse in line with the new compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum.

The official launch of the new RSE curriculum was delayed by COVID-19 and these digital resources therefore served to fill an important gap in sex education for parents and schools. By the end of 2020, these digital worksheets had been accessed by 232 people.

100% of survey respondents said that the worksheets aided students' learning in RSE. One parent said the worksheets contained: 'Really useful advice and guidance for anyone who engages with children, including parents and teachers'.

Read more about more about esson plans, worksheets and school staff training.

In 2020, Dr Horeck joined forces with SSE and feminist academic colleagues and fellow sex education advisors, Professor Jessica Ringrose and Dr Kaitlynn Mendes, to produce a set of policies for UK secondary schools.

They provide comprehensive guidance for schools on dealing with online sexual harassment and have been officially endorsed by ASCL, who have promoted them to their members, consisting of over 19,000 school and college leaders in the UK, working across primary, secondary and post-16 education.

Dr Horeck helped SSE to deliver training sessions on the policies and their implementation to teachers, head teachers and safeguarding leads. Participants felt the training increased their confidence to handle cases of online sexual harassment involving students.

Participants committed to a number of actions suggested in the policy, including sharing learning with key colleagues and reviewing the RSE curriculum, resources, and training.

One Deputy Head (Pastoral) has reported back that since implementing the policy, student wellbeing has improved at his secondary school in Portsmouth, which has seen a dramatic decrease in the sharing of "dick pics". 

In December 2020, the Government published new guidance on ‘sharing nudes and semi-nudes’ for those working with children and young people in education settings both within and beyond schools, which cites these policies and their insight regarding the importance of using the terminology of ‘image-based sexual abuse’ to talk about the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. 

Read more about more about online sexual harassment policies and government guidance .

Dr Horeck’s talk, Reframing “Revenge Porn” as Sexual Violence, changed perceptions of attendees at the 2019 SSE conference which was attended by over 60 teachers, sex education facilitators, and students.

All respondents to the post event survey said they think differently about issues of revenge porn/image-based abuse, feel better equipped to reframe revenge porn as sexual violence, and will change the way they talk to young people about revenge porn/image based abuse.

One teacher observed they feel 'equipped to help young people/people learn that this is never the victim’s fault'. Another said that they will 'focus more on responsibility, empathy and wider social issues' when speaking to young people about image-based sexual abuse.

The feedback demonstrates teachers’ increased confidence in finding ways to handle issues of image-based sexual abuse in their schools.

Public perceptions have also been reshaped by Dr Horeck’s work with creative practitioners and journalists.

In 2018, the youth creative organization Livity produced a documentary on image-based sexual abuse, Love, Lies and Nudes. This film was inspired by Dr Horeck’s research, with the producer citing Public Rape as an influence. The film has accrued over 3,884 views on YouTube since its release in June 2018.

A BBC journalist has also drawn on Dr Horeck’s expertise for a BBC Look East feature on young people and image-based sexual abuse on 26 June 2018, and a BBC Newsbeat article on 19 June 2019 about young people and staying safe online. 

Read more about more about changing perceptions of revenge porn .

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We have mapped our REF 2021 impact case studies against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, are an urgent call for action. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

This case study is mapped to SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, target 11.7.

See also

Read the full REF 2021 impact case study for UoA 34: Enhancing policies and practice in secondary school sex education to reduce image-based sexual abuse and improve internet safety for teenagers  (PDF)

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