Here at The Terrace we are keen to promote charities that work to support children and protect those that are vulnerable, or who find themselves in situations that could leave them open to abuse and exploitation. We support the NSPCC as our chosen charity and run regular events to raise money for them, maintaining close links with the representative of the charity in the South West.
But it seems that we, as a society can never do enough. Those who want to abuse or place young people in the way of danger seem to find new ways to avoid detection and social media offers endless opportunities to put pressure on those with access to the internet to behave in ways that are harmful.
In the coming weeks we will be highlighting areas of concern that have been mentioned in the press, or which are part of good safeguarding practice. If you are a parent, a professional working with young people, or a young person we hope these posts will make you think and offer ways of identifying possible abuse. They will also offer you ways to address the issue.
Today we focus on ‘sexting’ – which generally refers to the sending and receiving of texts including pictures of young people naked, in their underwear or in sexual positions. It also includes text messages or videos of a sexual nature. They might be sent from a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or a stranger met online. Often it starts as an innocent conversation, but can rapidly go further than one party intended it to.
The charity Childline receives many calls from young people in deep distress – images of them may have ‘gone viral’ at school or in their community, causing deep embarrassment at least, and at worst a wish to run away or even to commit suicide. Matters are now particularly acute, as a Childline survey showed that 6 out of 10 children own a smartphone, offering instant access to such pictures and messages.
Childline gives the example of one 17-year-old boy who told them sexting was “pretty normal” among his friends.
“My friends and I talk very openly about our experiences within our relationships, and the sort of things we’ve sent each other. It seems like everyone’s doing it…Someone saw a video message I had sent to a previous girlfriend, took a screen shot and posted it online. They called me a pervert and lots of people I knew saw it….I was completely devastated and, to be honest, almost suicidal.”
Isn’t it shocking that we allow such a thing to become a ‘normal’ experience for our children, many of whom are not yet teenagers?
Our nominated charity, the NSPCC, commissioned a report which was published as long ago as May 2012. Findings showed:
- the primary technology-related threat comes from peers, not ‘stranger danger’
- sexting is often coercive
- girls are the most adversely affected
- technology amplifies the problem by facilitating the objectification of girls
- sexting reveals wider sexual pressures
- ever younger children are affected
- sexting practices are culturally specific
This indicates that where many parents protect their children effectively from ‘stranger danger’, they do not take sufficient account of peer pressure.
Childline has developed a phone app called ‘Zipit’ which offers the opportunity for a young person to send an appropriate response to any ‘sexting‘ they receive – a witty ‘killer comeback’ that gives them control. Essentially though, we need to ensure that schools take responsibility for education children and young people about the dangers of sending sexy images or messages using their phone. We also need to encourage them to check out the Childline website which has a terrific section on how to deal with a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. It is all about defusing the pressure that they feel coming at them from their peers.
So we must all make ourselves aware of the issue and recognise that we as adults are not always innocent in this area. Celebrities have been caught out tweeting images of themselves in compromising positions and something that we feel comfortable sending as a flirty message may feel very different when it is read at the other end of the ‘line’.
So take a look at all the great information on the websites of children’s charities. Awareness of these issues is a great start.