This week I received a call from a parent whose 13 year old daughter had been sent a "dick pick" by a 14 year old boy from the same school. Naturally the father was furious, so he rang the school and demanded action. This is a situation that faces so many schools and parents every day. But it is a situation that is extremely difficult to deal with on so many levels. The school is automatically stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are rightly concerned for the parent and for the welfare of the child the image was sent to. But what if the child who sent it denies it? What if it was sent out of school hours? What power does the school have to demand that child present their phone for inspection? Even if the school does have a mobile phone policy, taking a childs phone and looking through it without a parent present is fraught with danger. These are the questions and statements that continue to frustrate all parties involved in such matters.
Within this article, I also present the all too common scenario of a school girl who has made the silly decision to send her boyfriend a "nude", assuming he was being honest when he said, "No-one else will see it, I promise!" She gets to school the next day and finds out her image has been shared with 50 of her boyfriends’ mates. How the hell does a parent deal with that? What can the school do to minimise the impact of such a terrible situation and help the girl concerned?
In many cases, if the school is unable to deal with either of these matters for whatever reason, the second phone call a parent usually makes will be to the police. One could assume a phone call to the police will bring immediate relief to the parent and action will be promptly taken to have the matter dealt with, especially given the age of the child. Sadly, so very often, this is simply not the case!
If a report is actually taken, which is unlikely given the reasons below, it will first need to be vetted. If a parent is unlucky (which is pretty much expected), that officer will deem the likelihood of a person being charged and convicted as extremely low. As such, a phone call will be made to the parent to say, "Sorry, there is nothing we can do." This was my world time and time again at Technology Crime; it was frustrating and at times heart breaking to tell parents I could not help them.
If the parent is lucky, the report will be sent to the local detectives’ office and again it will be vetted. They will ask, "Is it serious enough to investigate?" "Do we want a school boy interviewed by detectives and faced with a serious criminal offence and the prospect if convicted, of being placed on a sex offender register?" Of course not, even the Dad I spoke to doesn't want that. So again, the report will be handballed and sent back to the station where it was taken. Parents are hanging on to the false belief that the kids who have created such mayhem, will be spoken to by police. Do the local police have the time and resources to act on these matters? The answer is no!
I am presenting to over 200 schools in WA now. Many of these schools are facing not one of these types of incident a week, but several. I am getting phone calls and emails from frustrated parents almost every day. It would be naive to expect a police officer would or could speak to every single child who got busted sending or distributing a "nude" to another child. But why can't it happen? Because there is nothing in place to allow it to happen. This needs to change and change immediately. Hence my opinion that "Enough is enough!"
Legislation needs to catch up with how fast the online world is moving. Our legislators have been dragging their feet for way to long. I am not talking about arresting and charging children, that must always be a last resort. But something needs to be put in place to allow parents and professionals working with kids to have some power in taking action against those who do chose to act outside of the law. In the examples above, these children have broken the law. They have recorded and distributed child pornography and have procured another child to view such material. If they had been done by an adult, that adult would be looking at jail time. So what can be done if it is a child who has committed the crime?
Lets get back to basics. Lets draw on accountability and put the onus back on the teens who choose to act in this way. Lets put a middle man in place, a Govt. organisation that can oversee, investigate and act on such criminal behaviour at a juvenile level. Not to convict or penalise, but to question and address a pattern of behaviour. If such incidents continue for individuals, then introduce consequences that will address that behaviour without needing to fall back on such harsh legislation that in reality was only ever written with adult offenders in mind.
Give the victims and their parents some comfort in the fact the person who acted so carelessly has at least been held to account for their actions. Give our schools and educators some power to act on those students who so recklessly disregard such actions as offensive. Maybe then, we can start to reverse the ever increasing culture of "sexting" within our schools, if not only to address issues of respect for the sexes, but also to hopefully minimise the millions of photo's that are being uploaded every year exposing our kids to the entire online world.
This is what I continue to push to our Attorney General, in the hope he will start to take notice. Sadly at this stage, my concerns have fallen on deaf ears.