Last Updated on 10th December 2021

The internet is a constantly changing global forum that is filled with many different types of communities. These communities often allow people to express themselves in a way that frees them from what they consider to be societal “norms.” In recent years, with the explosive popularity of YouTubers and TikTokers, some members of these communities have taken to popular platforms to widely showcase their subcultures. One of these subcultures is the Furry Fandom.

What are Furries?

Furries are people who have an active interest in animal characters with human characteristics. These characters are often created by the community members themselves, who take them on as a “fursona” (an alternate persona) who interacts with other ‘fursonas’ in the community via roleplaying and art. The fursona commonly embodies characteristics (personality traits, physical attributes, and projected ages) desired by the individual creator. Some members even make vibrant costumes of their characters (called “fursuits”), and usually wear them in a public forum either in-person or online. There are world-wide conventions and “meets” that act as real-life gathering spaces for members.

As this is a predominantly online community with growing popularity on major social media platforms, our online safety experts have produced a full risk assessment around the topic for you to read.

two people dressed up in fursuits

©By Pikawil from Laval, Canada – Otakuthon 2014, via Wikipedia

Disability, Autism, and the Furry Community

A significant aspect found in the demographic of the Furry Fandom is the appeal it has to people with disabilities and people on the autism spectrum. FurScience, a multidisciplinary team of scientists who are studying the Furry Fandom, have visited Furry Conventions (a mass in-person gathering based on all things Furries) to do further scientific research on the Furry Community and its members. They discovered between 10-15% of Furries have been diagnosed or self-identify as being on the autism spectrum. A further percentage identify as being disabled in some capacity.

FurScience suggest that adopting a fursona is a liberating experience for members living with a condition, as they can mask it during community interactions. It also allows them to overcome normal limitations in social settings by building self-esteem, lessening anxiety, and encouraging creativity. A fursuit can act as a “sensory buffer” for members who may suffer from sensory overload. This could allow them to move and interact within an environment they can control. Likewise, if someone has difficulty with their motor skills, creating a fursona that communicates within those restrictions allows them to feel seen and heard by others

For a deeper look at what FurScience does and their findings, visit their website.

What are the Risks?

It is important to note that the Furry community is founded on building confidence and respecting the creative choices and expressions of its members. However, as this group is spread across multiple forums and platforms with little to no moderation, it carries risks for vulnerable children and young people that are worth mentioning.

  • The idea of the ‘fursona’ can blur the line between real life and created reality. This might encourage a vulnerable person to engage in risk-taking activity they would not normally do or ignore the responsibilities of their everyday life to focus on their “other” reality.
  • Part of taking on a fursona is adopting a subjective age. This means that someone can project themselves to be a younger or older age than they are in real life. This magnifies the very real danger of interacting with strangers over the internet, as they may not be entirely honest about their true age.
  • Even if interactions begin on a moderated online forum, the conversations could be encouraged to move to more “personal” platforms with encryption features (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) or in-person events (e.g. Furry Conventions). This makes it more difficult to ensure children and young people engaging in this platform are not being exploited or pressured by other members of the community, especially if they have a vulnerability.

Should I be Worried?

It’s normal for young people to express themselves through “dressing up.” Events like Comic-Con and the popularity of superhero fandoms have made the idea of creating and donning intricate costumes more mainstream and accessible. Remember – it is more than okay for young people to have a niche interest or hobby (provided it does not cause them or others non-consensual physical or mental harm).

The danger comes when the interest forms into an unhealthy obsession, fixation, or escape. If a young person feels unsatisfied or upset with their situation in life, it might be easier for them to disappear into an alternate reality or world they are able to control. This is especially true if they do not feel they have a supportive community around them. Fixation at this level may cause dissociation, anxiety, depression, and irritability.

One thing important to note is that Furries are not innately sexual. There is a public misconception about the sexualised nature of the Furry Fandom, but it is not the main draw or point of the community. However, as safeguarding professionals, we recognise that the uniquely personal perimeters of Furry culture could potentially create a scenario someone with a sexual interest in children may be able to exploit.

It can be difficult to teach young people the importance of balance. We know that boundaries are key to healthy behaviours and relationships. When we add the fantasy/roleplay dynamic which blurs the line between reality and make-believe, it can be harder to outline clear boundaries. This creates additional risk for children, young people, and vulnerable adults who engage in this type of interest as they may not understand how serious a situation is until it is too late.

group of people dressed up as furries

By Douglas Muth, via Wikipedia

What can I do?

If a child or young person in your care begins to show an interest in joining any community, be it online or off, how you approach and handle any related conversations is crucial. It is important to build a safe environment for them based on trust where they feel comfortable expressing themselves to you as their parent or carer. To help you do this, our online safety experts have rounded up some top tips.

Note: While this is specific to the Furry community, we believe this advice is interchangeable with more common “roleplaying” communities/fandoms your child or young person may be involved in (e.g. video games, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.)

  • Engage in conversation about what it means to be a furry and the benefits of the furry community. Outline what sort of behaviour is appropriate and respectful, online or offline.
  • Do your homework. Familiarise yourself with the different forums and terms used by the furry community to ensure you know what you’re discussing.
  • Discuss online safety with children and young people. Remind them that anyone they interact with online may not be telling the truth about who they are and highlight the important difference between a fursona (an outward expression) and a real person. Go over online safety habits to ensure they are comfortable acting on them, such as not sharing any personal information or reporting something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Approach the interest with no judgement. Ask open ended questions about the content your child or young person finds most engaging. It is important to remain understanding, even if you cannot fathom why something has caught your young person’s interest.
  • Join parent groups and follow furry-specific organisations like Fur Science. Not only will you find relevant resources to help you, but you’ll find that talking to other parents will help you feel supported and confident when connecting with the young person in your care.

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