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Society has been recently confronted with the phenomena of “Sexting” which is one further manifestion of the increasing sexualisation and earlier loss of childhood in our children. “Sexting” is the recent phenomena of an under-age child taking photos of themselves naked, in sexual pose, or in a sexual act, and sending these pictures onto third parties, normally via mobile phones or the internet.
This is mainly an under-age teenage phenomenon. Sexting puts teenagers who send and receive these pictures at risk of being charged with child-pornography offences, and of being shamed or blackmailed going forward into adult life.
Social media sites like Snapchat, Tinder, Facebook and closed private message networks enable this behaviour. The fact that
Reputations can be ruined due to past behaviours and there has been recent incidents of media and pop stars having sex videos, pictures and recordings made public after blackmail or revenge incidents with former lovers and associates. Several Hollywood identities have found their phones hacked and photos taken of sexting type photos they took to share privately with partners.
As well the public exposure of sex tapes of public figures Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardishan, and Kendra Wilkinson has highlighted this disturbing trend. In some cases partners have felt they have the right to humiliate, expose, blackmail and otherwise reveal without consent, intimate pictures of partners after a relationship has ended.
Psychologists are reporting teenagers coming into therapy suffering depression, self-hatred, feeling dirty, ashamed, betrayed and degraded, and having exposed themselves to adult sexual predators posing as other teens. Typically this behaviour starts out as curiosity or a dare between friends or dating teenagers, but in this volatile teenage period, relationships are sometimes short, but sent pictures are forever.
Friendships sometimes turned to hatred and a person then found intimate pictures sent by themself, circulating through their entire school, being posted on internet pornography sites. They may also be used as swap material with other pornography closed or member only sites, where image swapping of new material gains you entry.
There is no way to guarantee a person has retrieved all copies of internet posted images even when an Internet Service Provider removes images from a site. There has been child sex offences laid against nearly 100 sexting teens in Australia so far and this number will grow.
In a recent incident in Western Australia, a 14 year old boy was charged and found guilty of possessing child pornography after his phone was found to have downloaded a video of a school friend having sex with a school aged girl. This boy now has a criminal record even though they received a suspended sentence.
The Victorian Child Safety Commissioner has commented that children do not understand or distinguish between what is private and what is public information when online. He notes that the laws enacted to protect children will also ensnare children filming, swapping, receiving or down loading illegal material, even of themselves.
A survey in 2009 by teenager market magazine GIRLFRIEND, found 40 per cent of its readers had been asked to send someone a nude photograph of themself to another person. A study at Victorian Independent schools revealed that 16.3% of year 11 girls had been asked to send a naked picture of themself to another person.
Teenagers also are undergoing brain development in these school years and they often lack mature impulse restraint, or adult levels of recognition of the consequences of their actions. This partly explains their enticement into impulsive actions such as sexting which only later brings them realizations of the total possible consequences of their actions.
Sexting can also be another method of bullying or cyber-bullying in schools and its impact on victims has been to trigger the onset of Depression, Anxiety, Self-esteem loss, and suicidal thinking. Cyber-policing teams setup to masquerade as teenagers and children in chat rooms and on the internet, to catch lurking cyber-sexual predators, have noted the disturbing trend of adult abusers asking police posing as children on the internet, to do sexting with them on a swap image basis.
When this occurs there is no telling where those images may end-up as adult paedophiles regularly swap new images with other paedophiles to gain new material. This sexting behaviour is also a known “grooming” behaviour used by paedophiles to prepare and groom a child for increasing sexualised messaging, talking and eventual contact over time.
Police ensnare such predators now by “acting” on the internet as innocent children, but other paedophiles do make contact with children and under-age teenagers and do go on to actually abuse them. Schools need to update their Anti-bullying policies and their mobile phone usage policies to address sexting by students.
Schools do have a duty of care to make the school a safe place for children, much in the same way employers have a duty of care to make workplaces safe for employees. This duty of care extends outside the workplace and includes student or employee behaviour outside the school online.
An education program, tied to appropriate education and warnings about sexual abuse in the Community, is essential to combating this problem. At the family level the same considerations and tips for parents that we articulated in the section on Bullying and Cyber-Bullying, also applies here.
Parents need to be in dialogue with their children about the honouring of their emerging bodies, and how and why to keep good boundaries when exploring who they are in their bodies. The dangers to their future reputation, mental health, criminal record, and career prospects need to spelt out to teenagers.
The implications of sexting as outlined in this article, need to be stressed to every teenager. Sexting should be part of a wider discussion and dialogue between parents and their children around sexuality and also sexual dangers in the community.
It is now understood that traumatic sexting experiences can have life long effects on their victims. Many persons report symptoms including depression, anxiety, low self esteem, difficulty establishing or maintaining intimate relationships, sexual difficulties, self harm or other emotional issues including feelings of self hatred, betrayal, rage, and grief.
Whether you or someone you know has suffered sexting or cyber-bullying involving sexting as a child or teenager, or are an abuser who indulges in sexting, help is now available from our psychotherapists or with referral to Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).