If you have a mobile phone, have ever been on the internet or have even just been paying attention at all in the last 5 years, then I’m sure you’ve heard this term before; sexting. Maybe you’ve even sent a snap yourself, or been on the receiving end of one? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one! An estimated one in seven teens have sent sexually explicit texts, and one in four have received sexts. And it’s not just teenagers; 53% of adults admit to doing it too!
The conversation around sexting needs to go further than just ‘the dangers of the internet’ – it needs to involve discussions around healthy relationships, peer pressure, consent, digital security and sexuality, and most importantly the conversation needs to include you. Though Rosie as a digital platform was created primarily for girls, to both prevent them from harm and nurture their resilience and empowerment, our new teaching resource, Rosie in the Classroom, is available to students of all genders. Research shows that both boys and girls are likely to sext, however girls are much more likely to feel pressured into it and worry about being judged harshly for sexting (e.g., slut shaming) or for not sexting (e.g., being called a “prude”). Boys and girls both need to be part of the conversation and the solution.
So basically lots of people are doing it, but the issue is that no one knows how to talk about it or what they can do to keep both themselves and others safe. Though it’s not a new phenomenon, this topic is causing quite a stir at the moment, so we’re here to set a few things straight.
First things first: what exactly is sexting?
A sext can be any kind of provocative message sent from someone’s phone or computer. It can be a pic, a recorded message, a video – basically anything sexually explicit.
- Sexting is legal in Australia if it’s between two consenting adults.
- Sexting is illegal and considered child pornography if you’re under the age of 18, or receive a sext from someone under the age of 18. However laws have recently changed in Victoria – check out youthlaw.asn.au for more info.
- Sexting is illegal if it happens without consent. Nude videos or pictures taken without a person’s knowledge are also illegal.
- Sexting is illegal if you harass or constantly pressure someone to send you a nude picture or video.
- If you, or someone you know, is found to have nude images or videos of underage people there can be serious consequences. Anything from a police warning to years of jail time to ending up on the sex offender register. Different states have different laws, so to find out the deal in your state. Check out www.lawstuff.org.au
Think Before You Sext
Sexting can be risky. But if you are thinking of sending a nude pic or video, before you do, make sure you are very aware of the risks and carefully consider the following:
- Think about how long you want that pic or video out there for. Once we send these things, we have little control over where they end up.
- It’s a good idea to crop out any identifying features, such as tattoos or jewellery, so if you need to, you can deny that that image is you.
- Only sext when sober, so that you are fully aware of what you are doing and in control of your actions.
Feeling pressure to sext?
You should never feel pressured to take part in any kind of sexual activity you don’t feel comfortable with.
If you’ve been asked to send a sext, ask yourself first:
- Is this person guilt tripping me into sending a nude photo, or making me feel like I have to to prove that I like them?
- Are they treating me with respect?
- How likely are they to keep it private?
If you’re the one asking for a sext, before you do, try to see it from the other person’s perspective and ask:
- Is this person engaging with you enthusiastically and consensually?
- Are you making them feel uncomfortable or under pressure?
If you’re not sure of the answers, or it feels a bit weird, it might be a sign that it’s not a good idea.
If someone is sending you sexts without your consent, it’s harassment, which is against the law. Here’s what you can do:
- If it happens on your phone, contact your phone company to find out how to block them.
- If it happens online, contact the website owner.
- If you’re still concerned, talk to an adult you trust, or the police.
What to do if your image is shared
Though intimate images are usually intended to be private, unfortunately this privacy is often abused. Studies have shown that 10% of people have forwarded a sext without consent, and that one in five Australians have fallen victim to “image-based” abuse, including having sexual or nude images taken without consent (20%), having images shared without consent (11%) and being threatened to share images (nine%).
It is never ever okay to share an intimate image of someone without their consent. Not to mention the fact that it is incredibly disrespectful and harmful to the person in the picture, you could also find yourself facing some serious legal consequences.
These statistics are alarming and show just how widespread this issue is. But it’s important to remember, that if a photo of you is spread further than you intended, it is not your fault. It is the fault of whoever shared it.
If someone has shared your image without your consent, there are a few things you can do:
- If it’s on a social media platform report the image.
- Tell an adult you trust, maybe a teacher or a parent.
- Report it to the eSafety Commission portal and they will do everything they can to help you. You can access the portal here.
More discussion and better education
It’s no secret that there are major gaps in the education system when it comes to learning about sex and everything that comes with (relationships, consent and yes, sexting). A recent research report ‘It is not all about sex’: Young people’s views about sexuality and relationships education explored the experiences of sex ed from teenagers’ perspectives, revealing that while there is some discussion around respect relationships, 44% of female students and 41% of male students want to learn more about ‘staying safe online’. We hear that loud and clear and we want to help young people find the best possible resources and support they need in order to navigate their relationships and the rapidly evolving digital world.
We also know that it is not just young adults who are engaging in sexting, but young teenagers too, as access to technology grows and grows. “When I started speaking in schools five years ago it was targeted to Year 11 and 12. But now we are addressing sexting issues with kids in Years 7 to 10,” says Brett Lee, Cyber safety expert and founder of Internet Safe Education. “We shouldn’t underestimate that young people can make these decisions themselves.” We couldn’t agree more.
As guest writer Brodie Lancaster recently wrote in her blog Unpacking the Big Conversations, “We all have such different experiences with issues like mental health and respect in interpersonal or romantic relationships. Which makes coming together at school and equipping ourselves with the same language, tools and resources so important.” The classroom is the best place to unpack these difficult conversations, so that everyone is on the same page, and no one is left to work out these difficult issues on their own. In Brodie’s words, we want to help young people “unpack these really big conversations and manage them together to make sure that, no matter where your friends or classmates are coming from, you’re all leaving together knowing what to look for, how to behave and what you should accept.”
For more information about our new teacher resource kit check out Rosie in the Classroom.
To report an image shared without your consent, or to find out more information, resources and support visit the online Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
For more information on sexting check out our video ‘The Art of Safe Sexting’ below.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.