April 1, 2023

October 20, 2023

Designing interventions to tackle Online Violence against Women and Girls (OVAWG)

Researched innovative design approaches that can support the safety of women and girls on online platforms and services.

Security & Online Safety


The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) recognised the pressing issue of online violence against women and girls (OVAWG) and the pivotal role that platform design plays in either perpetuating or mitigating these harms. Between December 2022 and March 2023, the DCMS’s Digital Safety and Inclusion Team set out to uncover the link between platform design and OVAWG. This multidimensional challenge encompassed three primary objectives.

  • Understanding Design Features: Gain insights into how design features of online platforms and services can inadvertently enable the perpetration of OVAWG.
  • Safety by Design Approaches: Develop a deep understanding of existing safety by design approaches and how they can be harnessed to protect against the risk of OVAWG.
  • New Design Approaches: Explore potential innovative design approaches that can guarantee the safety of women and girls on online platforms and services.


To tackle this complex challenge, PUBLIC led a four-phased research approach:

  1. Landscape Review: The research journey began with an exhaustive review of over 100 literature sources to understand the current landscape of platform design in the context of OVAWG. This landscape analysis served as the foundational knowledge base for subsequent phases.
  2. Stakeholder Engagement: The insights gathered from the literature review were further validated through in-depth engagement with 22 stakeholders. This group included representatives from civil society organisations and online platforms, encompassing social media and online dating services. This stakeholder engagement was crucial in bridging the gap between theory and real-world experiences.
  3. Design Review: With a comprehensive understanding of the landscape and the real-world implications gathered from stakeholders, PUBLIC identified a long list of 50+ design features available on platforms. This extensive list was then refined to 12 priority features. These features were chosen for their prevalence across platforms and their potential to pose risks to users, as identified through stakeholder interviews.
  4. Final Report: The project culminated in the consolidation of all findings into a report, spanning over 100 pages. This report was instrumental in providing insights into the impact of platform design on OVAWG. It played a pivotal role in informing DCM and The Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse.


Our research conducted on behalf of DCMS has significantly advanced informed decision-making, enabling stakeholders to address OVAWG more effectively. Equally, the identification of 12 priority design features and the conceptualisation of four future-facing design features hold the potential to shape the development and design of online platforms and services, emphasising safety for women and girls. Our research contributes to the global body of evidence surrounding gender-based online harassment and abuse, supporting The Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse in their efforts to combat this issue. The project’s impact is tied to our mission to create a safer and more inclusive online environment for all.


Photo by the author

Maya Daver-Massion

Former Team Member

Photo by the author

Alexa Sheldon

Former Team Member

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