Sexting gone wrong: trust is key in preventing secondary sexting

In the latest helpline data report, sexting was the fifth reported reason why teenagers contacted the Insafe network of helplines. We hear more about this topic from our Belgian Safer Internet Centre (SIC), Child Focus.

Date 2016-10-18 Author Belgian Safer Internet Centre

"At Child Focus, we see that 25 per cent of the online safety cases received in 2015, through the Child Focus helpline, were about sexting gone wrong. This excludes dossiers of sextortion or grooming, even if they have a similar start. For those who read newspapers, we all know that when sexting goes wrong it can go terribly wrong. Cases of youngsters (and also adults) that are being haunted today by a personal sext they sent in the past are no longer an exception.

"So, sexting and, more specifically, when it goes wrong gets problematic when the person that initially took the photo is not the sender anymore.

"There are a lot of different ways for a sext to go astray, or be spread way more widely than the sender of the photo or video intended. In that case we are talking about secondary sexting, such as sending sexts to the wrong number, for example, or becoming a victim of revenge porn or mass texting. It's also very common for sexts to get shared around, including with complete strangers. And once it's out there in cyberspace, you can't control it any more.

"Something that is really helpful to give a better understanding of the sexting-generation is the annual Apestaartjaren 6 Research. Questions about sexting were asked to more than 3,000 students aged 12 to 18 years old. When we looked at the numbers at first, we felt relieved. Only 8.1 per cent of them had sent a sext within the last two months. 60 per cent of them were smart enough not to be recognisable on the sext, only 20 per cent would go completely naked, and almost all of them sext within the context of a relationship. Well, isn't that good, we thought. But then we took a closer look at the study: 25.6 per cent of them had received a sext within the last two months. If only 8 per cent had sent one, how did they end up being seen by 25 per cent of Flemish pupils?

"As the study continued, things were making more and more sense. First of all, Snapchat seems to be the sexting place to be. However, if you know that, at the same time, almost half of the respondents take screenshots from Snapchat, it's no longer the safe haven it might initially seem. It makes it really easy for a sext to go viral if you think about it… So, why they do it? We don't know for sure, but at least not because they think it's cool. However, there seems to be one golden rule for the big majority: it's entirely the senders fault when the photo gets spread. 70 per cent would (totally) agree with this statement.

"But is it? Is it really? As long as the receiver of a sext thinks s/he has not a single responsibility when s/he spreads a personal sext from someone, there is a big problem. We cannot stop sexting from going wrong if this is the mentality we are dealing with. For this reason, we believe we should change the scope of prevention from the ‘victim-blaming prevention' to ‘sender AND receiver of a sext prevention'. Therefore, our main focus is on TRUST (Triggering the Receiver through a Uniform message that also makes the Sender Think). We should do more than victimising the sender of a sext and change the focus to tackle secondary sexting also (instead of problematising sexting as such).

So, let's start to TRUST by triggering the receiver of a sext:

…and simultaneously continuing to make the sender think:

Our biggest concern in the whole sexting story is: 'If you don't want kids to be naive, don't be naive yourself'. Try to do more than just focusing narrowly on the sender of a sext, because that is just tackling half of the story."

Find out more about the work of the Belgian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

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