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NSPCC warns of the dangers of sexting among young people

“Sexting” is defined as the “exchange of sexual messages or images” and the “creating, sharing and forwarding of sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images” through mobile phones and/or the internet. It may include:

  1. boys asking girls for nude or partially nude photos;
  2. boys claiming to have such photos on their phones;
  3. girls and boys sending sexually explicit messages over the phone or the internet;
  4. the accessing and recirculation of pornography on phones; and
  5. the use of sexually explicit photographs on Facebook or on networks such as Blackberry Messenger.

Sexting may be motivated by sexual pleasure but it is often coercive, linked to harassment, bullying and even violence.

A recent in depth study launched by the NSPCC has revealed that sexting has reached a high level among teenagers. Smart phones with social networking capabilities like the iPhone or the BlackBerry are increasingly popular among young people. They can access the internet and, crucially, they offer ‘free’ messaging services (such as BlackBerry Messenger – BBM – or Ping) which allow young people to form large networks. These services are also popular because they are not monitored by parents, teachers or family members such as older siblings.

The study revealed that school girls are facing increasing pressure to provide sexually explicit pictures of themselves. They are also being relentlessly pressured to perform sexual acts which are then recorded on mobiles and circulated to groups of young people. The victim is left devastated, to face ridicule and abuse, and feeling unsure of what to do.

Rosalind Gill, from King’s College London, said: “We were deeply upset by the levels of sexual abuse, physical harassment and even violence some of the girls experienced on a regular basis. Apart from the immediate acute distress this kind of behaviour can cause we also have to consider the affect it might have in later life”.

Jon Brown, Head of the Sexual Abuse Programme at the NSPCC, highlighted that “many young people seem to accept all this as just part of life. But it can be another layer of sexual abuse and, although most children will not be aware, it is illegal. It’s very concerning that whilst young people seem to have a solid grasp of ‘stranger danger’ they are often struggling to cope with problems from their own peer group”.

Mr Brown further warned that “this can’t be treated as just one of those phases children go through. And although some of it may sound familiar from previous generations, the difference is that the consequences are now far wider with images remaining forever and potentially being viewed by mass audiences. They can also fall into the hands of adult abusers”.

At present there is little or no effective policy in place regarding sexting among young people. It must therefore be dealt with by vigilance on the part of parents, teachers, social workers and other professionals working together to ensure that victims of this abuse are given the protection they need.

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