Sexting – one moment can lead to a lifetime of consequences

Are you familiar with this story? ‘Teen sext haunts man 7 years on’. It’s a cautionary tale.

Sexting is a major issue for young people. Many are unaware that sending or receiving a sexually explicit photo, video or message of themselves can be illegal under the Victorian child pornography laws.

This is one of the reasons the Parliament of Victoria’s Law Reform Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into sexting, looking at where the law might need to change to better deal with sexting. The report is due to be released in April. Listen to what Michael Holcroft, the Law Institute of Victoria’s 2012 President, had to say about the need for the inquiry.

While the need for law reform has been recognised, what happens to young people in the mean time? Evidence suggests that many schools are chosing to handle sexting matters interally rather than notify the police.  So last year South Eastern Centre for Sexual Assualt (SECASA) and Youthlaw joined forces to help schools educate students about the implications of sexting.

SECASA will launch their anti-sexting pack in June this year. This pack will be distributed to every secondary school in Victoria, and will also available for download. This project was funded by a Victoria Law Foundation grant. Our next general grants round closes on 18 March 2013. If you have a great idea for a legal project talk to our grants manager now!

We spoke to SECASA’s Manager Carolyn Worth about what they’re doing to help  teachers and counsellors tackle the problem of sexting.

Why are we seeing sexting in the news so much?
It has become ‘normalised behaviour’ in adolescent culture. It may expose young adults to significant risk and have huge implications for later life if a picture is posted on the internet. There is a lot of peer pressure to engage in sexting by both boys and girls. Many see sexts as a part of the dating ritual. A few see it as sport, a way in which to exert influence over others, to bully or for revenge, or as blackmail. Many young people are unsure how to say ‘No’ if they are asked to send a sext, or forward one to their friends. Many parents and school administration staff are also unsure how to respond when dealing with young people sexting. Girls send photos to boys who say that if they really love them they will send them a picture. Boys see it as a badge of honour that they have been sent one by their girlfriend. They often show them to their friends and sometimes send them on. Girls are sometimes flattered to be asked to send a picture. It is complex area of behaviour.

How did you come up with the idea for the anti-sexting pack?
This originally came from a Monash University medical student Community Based Practice Program project about sexting. Their task was to create some fact sheets for parents and students to go onto our website. At the end of their project we decided it would be a good idea to create a postcard to be distributed to young people. The anti-sexting pack came about as a direct result of the postcard.

During a discussion with teachers requesting more sexting resources we explained that the postcard could be broken down into four types of behaviour that were contributing to the current sexting trends. Our schools program staff already used these squares/themes in classes on anti-sexting. Teachers asked for these to be explored and teased out for use in classes.

In conjunction with the postcard, the schools program had a student on placement who was tasked with creating an anti sexting game. This student and SECASA staff developed two anti-sexting games and have developed two more. These games will be included in the pack.

Respect me, don't sext me postcard

Respect me, don’t sext me postcard

16016_Sexting-2

Respect me, don’t sext me postcard

What has the reaction been like to the postcard from students and teachers?
This postcard has proved extremely popular. It appeals to a wide range of age groups.  We send out about 10,000 every three months to a wide range of agencies, schools and organisations.  It has also proved very successful for those working with clients with an intellectual disability.

SECASA held information sessions with parents and discovered that generally adolescents and parents do not have clear information about sexting and did not know that sexting with consent was illegal.

What kind of impact do you hope the anti-sexting pack will have?
We are hoping to change the attitudes and behaviours towards sexting. We would like young people to see that sexting is a risky behaviour and exposes them to many unfavourable short and long term consequences.

 

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