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Online Safety Bill campaigners join forces to urge next prime minister to prioritise new legislation | UK News

A group of campaigners, survivors and families affected by abuse on social media have written to the Tory leadership candidates to urge the next prime minister to prioritise the Online Safety Bill.

Danielle Armitage is one of those who have signed the open letter addressed to the candidates.

She was only 14-years-old when she was groomed while playing an online interactive game for children.

The man claimed to be 16 years old, however he was in fact in his late 40s at the time.

Ms Armitage, who has waived her anonymity to warn others about what happened to her, told Sky News that initially “he arranged to meet me after school”.

“I got into his car and discovered that he was a lot older than what he said. I just froze from that point,” she said.

He drove Ms Armitage to a forest, and that’s when the first sexual assault took place.

More on Online Safety Bill

The situation then “escalated”, and subsequent assaults became more violent.

Ms Armitage said: “He said if I spoke out or told anybody, he’d threaten my family. I felt like I had to see him again.”

She added: “By coming together and speaking out, we want the next prime minister to know what happened to us was avoidable.

“It’s in their hands to protect our children, and to make sure there are safety measures in place for children using the internet.”

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March 2022: What is the Online Safety Bill?

Campaigners are calling on Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to resist calls to water down the planned internet safety laws and commit to delivering them without delay.

The proposed legislation had been scheduled to make its way through parliament before the summer recess but, due to competing demands in the chamber, has now been delayed until a new prime minister is in place.

It aims to regulate social platforms, to ensure they protect their users from harmful content, with fines and other potential penalties for those who fail to do so.

There are concerns in some quarters that the bill will damage free speech and enable censorship, while others believe it does not go far enough to curb the spread of harmful material online.

In their letter, the campaigners said it is “upsetting” to see some opponents of the bill “rejoicing at this delay and calling for the legislation to be scrapped altogether”.

The coalition is made up of 15 grooming and sexual abuse survivors, and parents of children who died by suicide after seeing harmful content online.

“We have long campaigned for laws to better protect children online and were frustrated and disappointed to see the Online Safety Bill delayed rather than pass through parliament last month,” the letter reads.

“With every month the legislation is delayed, the NSPCC say we will see more than 3,500 online child sexual abuse crimes against children. These offences have increased tenfold in just a decade. And bullying, pro-anorexia posts, harmful self-harm and suicide content continue to fill children’s streams.

“This level of harm against children would not be accepted in any other industry, which is why the next prime minister must make the Online Safety Bill a national priority and pave the way for urgent regulation to begin.”

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Concerns have been raised by experts on all sides of the debate around the bill after changes in government and ministers with different priorities overseeing the legislation.

In their letter, the campaigners insisted Ms Truss or Mr Sunak must move forward with the bill.

“Should you become the next prime minister, we urge you to keep the promise made to children and families and deliver a robust Online Safety Bill in full and without delay,” they said.

“Any watering down of the bill would be unacceptable and break the commitment made to children and families in the Conservative Party manifesto to deliver the strongest possible protections for children online.”

‘There’s a barrier to receiving help’: Campaigners call for more support for student mental health services | UK News

Campaigners have said there is still a long way to go to support young people and prevent suicides after the government announced further funding for student mental health services.

The Student Minds mental healthy charity has received a three-year funding commitment of £262,500 annually from the Office for Students and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, to extend the provision of Student Space.

The platform offers students one-to-one mental health support as well as services via web, call and text.

The funding comes after the government allocated £3m to help the NHS work more closely with universities when providing students with mental health support.

However, campaigners have said there is a long way to go when it comes to providing students with the best possible mental health provisions.

Mental health activist Ben West told Sky News: “So many students I talk to don’t know what’s available, and even if they know what’s available they’re so mysteriously presented that, that there’s so much anxiety about going.

“That is such a barrier to receiving that help.”

He added that discrepancies between universities are also rife.

Mr West said: “It varies massively from university to university.

“Some universities I’ve seen and heard about are great, they’re very proactive in terms of the support they offer, and some universities are incredibly unproductive.

“We need so much more regulation and guidance from government.”

In 2018, Natasha Abrahart took her own life while in her second year at the University of Bristol.

Struggling with social anxiety, her well-being deteriorated as she faced increasing pressure around oral university assessments.

Her department was made aware of her situation.

Robert Abrahart, her father, told Sky News about how Natasha’s flatmate had written to staff about the fact the student had been having suicidal thoughts “and to some degree attempted it”.

He said: “At that point, you’d think people would pick up on it and do something.

“In fact, yes, they helped her to get to the GP service, but did nothing else in the department.”

Natasha Abrahart
Natasha Abrahart took her own life in her second year of university

Her mother Margaret Abrahart added: “I think they were quite frightened to talk to her in case it was upsetting.

“But then at the same time, they seem OK with putting her into a situation that would be really upsetting.”

Her parents later learned of more attempts their daughter had made to get help.

Mr Abrahart said: “There’s records of her searching the internet for ways of solving her own problems.”

Her mother added: “It’s very tragic to see the attempts she made to sort out her own problems.

“It was just one of those problems that was just too difficult, and she needed help”.

Natasha Abrahart with parents Robert and Margaret
Natasha Abrahart with parents Robert and Margaret

Ultimately, a landmark court ruling found the university’s failures contributed to Natasha’s death.

At the time, the University of Bristol said staff worked hard and diligently to support her and it is committed to providing the best possible support for students.

The university has also applied to appeal the court’s decision.

The case sparked conversations around student mental health, and her parents continue to campaign so other students don’t experience the distress Natasha did.

There are also concerns about the training around mental health provided to student-facing staff.

Read more:
COVID and social media pressures driving surge in mental health problems, say doctors
One in six young people in England has a diagnosable mental health condition

Third of young men trying to conform to social media’s ‘picture perfect culture’, survey says

Sky News obtained data from 109 universities through Freedom of Information requests.

It showed that 98% offer student-facing staff mental health training.

However, it isn’t mandatory in 67 out of 107 institutions – that’s 63%.

And while 37%, 40 out of 107, have some form of mandate – in most cases, this doesn’t cover all staff.

Clinical psychologist Peter Kinderman told Sky News understanding of mental health must be widespread.

He said: “It should be part of the duty of care that all university staff – and that includes cleaning staff as well as lecturing staff – should have towards their students.

“It should be inherent in what universities do.

“If universities are ducking their responsibilities to understand and then support student mental health, then I think they’re at fault.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK