The news broke last week about the discovery of a website where teenage boys had been sharing photos of female teens naked, partially naked or engaged in sexual activity. 70+ schools were identified by journalist Nina Funnell, who painstakingly went through the website, cross -referencing names and schools listed. Not only did she uncover existing images and identifying information but she found “hit lists” where users were posting the names of girls they wanted to obtain photos of, encouraging others to “hunt” for them and offering trades. Some pictures were stolen, some coerced, some taken without permission. The website has reportedly been taken down but it isn’t the only one of its kind, nor is it likely to stay gone.
Social Media & Rape Culture.
Our teens and tweens are growing up among the first to go through school in an age of social media saturation, where everyone has a camera with Internet connectivity on them at all times. In addition, they are living in a society where the ever present rape culture seems so magnified. It seems like every week, there is a news story where a sexual offence has been committed only to have the blame shifted to the victims. This website, essentially a porn-ring set up to violate young women, was no exception. It’s a horrible situation but it’s also an important opportunity to speak to kids, especially adolescents. These are just a few of the issues that came to mind.
Some argue that gender is not a major issue in this awful situation. However, I have yet to see or hear about websites where teen girls are posting sexual images of boys to objectify and shame them. I haven’t heard of female students running social media pages similar to the Brighton Grammar boys and their “Young Sluts” Instagram account, where they sexualised girls as young as 11. I don’t know of any female students like the teen boy from St Michael’s Grammar, with his Dropbox full of teen girl nudes that he shared around. These are just a couple of examples, however, this sort of thing seems to exclusively involve boys targeting girls. That is one hell of an elephant in the room. I don’t think we have a hope of changing things if we don’t acknowledge it.
Everyone, from the Queensland Police to keyboard warriors on news articles, seems to want only to admonish the teenage girls involved. What did they expect, when they took naked photos?
It doesn’t matter that some of these photos were stolen from the girls, because they should never have been taken.
It’s irrelevant that there were pictures of girls and boys involved in sexual acts, because if the girls had said no, there’d never have been a chance for a non-consensual picture, right?
It doesn’t even bear mentioning that some boys harass girls for nudes or otherwise coerce or blackmail them.
The burden of morality always lies on the girls. Which makes the fact that some girls have willingly shared a picture with someone they trusted somehow worse. Why? Because our society, that sexualises women and girls from a young age, shames and reviles young women for expressing normal sexual feelings or desires. That same society views sexual desires and feelings in young men with benevolent indulgence. Because “boys will be boys”. Even, apparently, when it comes to predatory behaviour and sexual offences.
Talking to Teens.
No one wants to think of their kids engaging in anything remotely sexual before they are ready. Not to mention before they’re mature enough to cope with it. Realistically, though, there’s an excellent chance that they will think and feel that they are ready well before you do.
You might be temped to ignore or put off talks about sex. It can be uncomfortable, or maybe you feel that your kids are too young. Or that their school wasn’t mentioned, so they are safe enough. I don’t think so. If you have a kid anywhere near high school age, it’s time to sit them down for a chat. They need to know about the double standards applied to boys and girls so that they can try not to be part of the problem.
Teens and tweens have to know they can come to you for help. And they have to understand the boundaries and how to identify dangerous or harmful behaviour from their peers.
What Teens Need to Know.
Who is at fault.
They need to understand who is in the wrong in this situation. Kids have to understand that, at worst, the girls involved are only guilty of placing trust in the wrong person. We stressed to our kids that if one of them shared someone’s private pictures around like this, we’d be really disappointed in them, because we have made sure that they know better. The boys involved are the ones who populated this website with images they had no right to distribute or even be in possession of in some cases. These boys might not have realised it, but they’re now sexual offenders. It’s a huge deal.
Teen Girls and Sexy Selfies.
Should we tell girls not to take them, or is that just victim blaming? I think it’s victim blaming if that is our only response to this situation. Why not talk to boys and girls about this? It’s not like young men are immune (and plenty of not-so-young men seem to think it’s appropriate to send unsolicited dick pics, too!). Instead of outright forbidding our teens to take such pictures, we tried a different approach. We discussed the relative permanency of pictures that get shared online. The conversation was about caution, risk assessment and trust. We talked about how different it was when we were growing up, with film camera and clunky dial up on PCs, compared to now.
I wanted them to think critically and to decide for themselves that sending nude pictures might not always be a fabulous idea. They’re far more likely to run with their own idea than they are with any strict rules we try to impose.
Trust and Respect.
Some kids have a great understanding of respect. If a private photo was shared with them, they’d understand that trust and respect it. This is not applicable, obviously, to all kids. We have tried to make sure not only that our kids understand trust and respect, but also to remind them that other kids might not view these things in the same way. I wanted them to know that betraying trusts, like what has happened to these young women, was not acceptable behaviour on more than one level. They needed to know that
This is a crucial topic for young people. They must have a full and robust understanding of what consent is and how they should obtain it. They need to understand that consent can be withdrawn at any time. We want them to know that consent should be enthusiastically and freely given. Show teens this video for a good, basic understanding of consent:
Teens need to understand what the actual age of consent is and what it means. For example, in N.S.W, the age of consent is 16. When it comes to images like those displayed on the website? Different story. Sexual images of people under the age of 18 are considered child pornography. Taking pictures of others, sharing them even with permission from the person pictured? It’s a legal minefield.
We are here.
If they have knowledge of something like this happening to anyone they know, I want them to come to me so that I can report it. If someone takes a non-consensual picture of one of our teens and puts it (or threatens to put it) online, I want to know about it. What if someone steals a picture from them? I want to know. If they mistakenly trust someone with a picture and things get bad, I want to know. That’s why I made it clear to our kids that they could come to us with these problems, without fear of punishment or judgement. I hope they never need to but if they do, we’ll be here.
#IBOT @ Kylie Purtell.