Sexting – What’s the Problem?
At the Rosey Project we are asked to provide a variety of awareness raising workshops for different community youth groups. As it’s a huge issue and topical in the news right now youth workers are often asking us to provide a workshop raising awareness about the dangers of ‘sexting’ and in particular the growing number of young people sending sexually explicit images. They ask us to talk to them about privacy settings, where your photos might end up, how it could affect you now and how it could affect you in the future.
So we carried out several of these workshops with various groups and some common themes that are emerging are:
ó young people are well aware of their privacy settings
ó they are aware, from what they are telling me that they understand the potential consequences of either sending a sexually explicit photo or posting it online
ó they do it anyway.
Why? I asked them.....their reply,
‘It’s just no big deal, everyone does it and it’s just a laugh. People are taking it way too seriously and they need to lighten up’.
They are not being flippant or naive or misunderstanding the dangers; for them, it’s just not that big a deal.
They are bright, clever young people so it’s definitely not that they are stupid or irresponsible. But they see it every day in the media and it has become so normalised they don’t understand that it’s a problem. They see sexualised behaviour and the normalisation of sexual violence everyday in Page 3, lad’s mags, teenage girl magazines, computer games, the music industry, TV shows, films etc and it’s packaged so slickly that what they see is glamorous and definitely not a form of gender based violence. And it’s certainly not something to fear.
How can we possibly get young women to see the dangers of sharing sexually explicit material when people like Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian and all the other famous, and idolised, women are doing it. Let’s face it we know that young people are far more influenced by celebrity than anything else. If we admit it, so were we at that age but the difference is we weren’t growing up in a hyper sexualised, technological society.
Social media allows young people to be instantly accessible to each other. They seek instant validation. They cannot see a few years in to the future. They are living in the here and now and that’s all that matters, not five, ten or even fifteen years down the line.
So what can we do? Probably what we are already doing but on a larger scale. We need to do what we would do with any problem; tackle the source of the problem not the result.
More has to be done to challenge the media, the music industry, the gaming industry etc. These are the people who are making millions of pounds turning young people in to mini ‘porn stars’ that they can manipulate and make them believe they can handle it. Nothing we can say is going to make them understand that there may be consequences; they’ll have to discover that on their own, and unfortunately for some of them it will be too late.
We need to make more of a stand to protect our children; we need to challenge the source. We are doing a huge amount of work at The Rosey Project to educate and raise awareness among young people in schools and youth groups. We hold a series of workshops for young people ranging from sexualisation of the music industry, the negative effects of lads mags, exploring sexual violence and the law and the effects of pornography on young people and their attitudes towards sex and relationships.
We hear some young people saying that they feel under pressure to conform to a sexualised society but there is an equal number of young people who are struggling to see how damaging it is, and we hope that our workshops can show them the wider picture and offer them greater understanding.
We know that sexting and other sexual pressures are having a negative effect on some young people because we see it here at Rape Crisis. Another part of The Rosey Project is about offering support; our young women’s support worker Lauren, supports young women 13+ who have experienced sexual violence and abuse, sees these effects firsthand. The young women Lauren supports have been referred from many sources including directly from our workshops.
She works with young women supporting them through their experiences in the hope that with a better understanding of how it happened they might be able to move on to the recovery stage by building up their confidence and self-esteem. Lauren facilitates a young women’s support group here at the centre and we can see how young women with similar experiences, together can support each other, educate each other and validate each other’s feelings. Because of this knowledge that we have built up over the years at The Rosey Project peer mentoring may be the way forward, if we can get young people talking to each other about their own experiences then maybe it will be more ‘real’ coming from someone they can relate to. If they can see how sexting has affected a young person now they might, just might think twice.