One of the most significant subjects I deal with, is the sending and receiving of "nudes". At all schools, nudes is a subject popping up regularly at any staff meeting. Though the revealing of skin by teens is not new, I remember the occasional streak or flash at school when I was a teen. What has changed is that the ability for someone to capture such a moment has increased massively. The chance for so many others to see such an error in judgement is at a level we have never seen in the past. As such, it is where nudes are ending up and how many people are actually seeing them that is having a significant impact on the welfare of those who choose to send.
I am not in any way condoning the sending of nudes, especially by people under the age of 18. This is a criminal offence. However, I am working with over 300 schools across Australia and last year I presented to almost 75 thousand students. I regularly speak personally with teens who have sent such images and question why they do it. The response that comes back time and time again is, "Because it is fun" or "Because it is flirty." Why do they do it? Because our teens take such risks, they always have.
Based on my research, 28% of teens between the ages of 13 to 17 will send a nude. Girls are sharing nudes more than the boys, with that ratio being 58% female and 42% male. 44% of girls and 27% of boys will send a nude because they felt pressured within a relationship to do so. Whereas 42% of girls compared to 71% of boys who send, have done so freely and openly without coercion within a relationship. In many cases this does not necessarily mean a "sexual" relationship, but it is usually between boyfriend and girlfriend.
In this modern world, Teens are expressing themselves in many more ways than they have in the past. Doing it in this form is just another method they use to interact with someone close to them. Their phone is right there, so getting caught up in a moment is so much easier. Many girls will also send nudes because they feel "confident" or "sexy" from the response given by the person they sent it to. Does that make it right? Of course not! Therefore education must be aimed not simply at "Do not send" but more specifically toward, "Where will they end up?" This is the message I hit extremely hard with all the middle school students I present to.
The area I target most specifically with the teens I present to is getting them to understand how far their images can actually go. They may well feel they can trust their partner, and many of them do honestly believe they can. But it is important they understand trust can be broken and as such, control over what has been sent will be lost totally, without return. A case I worked on in my time at Technology Crime highlights this completely.
A young girl, 15 years of age, sent a full front nude photo of herself (including her face) to her then boyfriend. It was captioned, "nite, luv u xxx". That was it. Her boyfriend was with one of his mates at the time. They spoke about the image, to which he foolishly shared it with that mate. Nothing was said about the photo for a few weeks, until rumours started circulating around the school. The girl asked her boyfriend if he had shared it, and of course he denied doing so. Two months later, the girl was sent her own pic through a fake Ask.fm account, with the caption "slut!". She was devastated at her ex-boyfriends clear lack of respect and as such they split up. Sadly though, that did nothing to end her heartbreak.
One of the students at her school posted her image to a public website, naming her and her school. In the 3 months this poor girls’ image was on that site, it was downloaded 16 thousand times. To this day, 4 years later, you can still search this girl by her name and find that photo. I still speak with her and her parents regularly, where they ask me to help them remove it from another website it is displayed on. I know this will be difficult, because the vast majority of those sites are run overseas. In the past 4 years I have found her photo on no less than 41 different locations on the internet. Yet I have been successful in removing her image from only 7 of those sites.
This is an issue this family must deal with now for many more years to come. Not only the fact that their daughter sent such an image, but that her then boyfriend chose to share it and her peers also chose to share and post it online. She has to keep reliving an error of judgement she made 4 years ago. She is reminded about it almost every day. Yet those who posted it have no doubt long forgotten her and moved on!
Many people I speak to argue that she should not have sent the image in the first place and that she only has herself to blame. Is that really the answer? Can she or anyone be fully to blame for trusting someone? Does that argument let off all those people who chose to share it without any concern at all for the person depicted? Does that devolve them of any responsibility at all for the sending and posting of that image? If the answer to these questions is yes, then our teens are in bigger trouble then I thought.
Education is a must. Teens need to become aware of the real issues and risks involved in such activity. Not to deride them or abuse them, but to get them to truly assess risk. Teens will send nudes, this cannot be stopped. What we can hopefully stop is the total lack of respect and impersonal nature the internet promotes. Any person can jump online at any time and search all the teen nudes they want. They can find an infinite number of images and videos of young people, all of whom no doubt at the time, made a terrible error of judgement. Yet all of these sites, these networks and apps seem remorseless, almost happy to display such images.
This is where we need change! Not tomorrow, but now.