By now, you have probably heard the disgusting story regarding an online Facebook group pornography ring established by school boys in Australia. It came to light that sexual images of students from over 70 schools in Australia had been put up on the site. These teenage boy members would nominate a high school or a region in the vicinity and state that they wanted nude images of girls from. In fact, participants would go further to give full names of the girls they specifically wanted images of. But it didn’t stop there! These students would also put out wanted lists and offer wins and bounties to those who could provide information about people on the list. This information would range from their addresses, to phone numbers, hangout places and other details.
Having been operational since last December, the site was finally brought to the attention of the Australian Federal Police in August 2016. It verified that the images were of underage women. When the victims were told about it, many had no idea their photos were on the group, while some had posted their pictures on the site themselves. It also came to light that people had requested their pictures or those of their friends to be removed, but had only faced more bullying on that platform.
So, where does this leave us?
There are many facets to this story and so many thoughts running through my mind when I heard it – What is the world coming to? What does this say about male culture in Australia that these boys think this type of behaviour is acceptable? What impact will this have on the victims? Is anyone safe any more from the wrath of a public internet? Are the future generation losing basic empathy?
While it is not uncommon for boys of that age to be curious about the body of the fairer sex, this incident reaks of personal attacks and vendettas. These boys wanted specific girls’ photos, they wanted to humliate girls they knew or knew about. It wasn’t so much about seeing naked photos as it was about targeting real people and humiliating them. And somehow, it is the girls who are left humiliated, and not the boys who have participated in this disgustingly immature and dangerous behaviour?
Anyway, that sexual double standard debate can be left for another time. What I would like to focus on here are some solutions that parents of teenage girls, and the girls themselves, can adopt to minimise the chances of this ever occurring to them:
No Sexting: Yes, this sounds pretty obvious but it is the easiest way to prevent naked photos of yourself ending up online. It all comes down to trust. Your daughter’s boyfriend may seem like the most wonderful, trustworthy human on the planet to her – but that’s not to say he won’t cave to peer pressure and share those intimate photos she gave him in good faith. Kids are always going to be kids, but the important thing to stress to your daughter is that naked photos (or even suggestive photos) must never be shared in any form – not SnapChat (it can be screenshotted!), not over Skype (there could be a screen recording happening at the other end!) and not any other site or app.
The right circle: Who you will be 10 years from now can be influenced by the type of company you keep today. To your best ability, encourage your daugther to mix with the right crowd. Ensure they are the type of children who have empathy, who care about people and the world around them. This can impact on the decisions she may make when given choices about sexting and other risky behaviour.
Communicate: Talk to your kid about the risks of sexting – perhaps even show them the news article that we are reflecting on. Explain to your daughter how digital images can be screenshotted, recorded, downloaded, saved, shared, forwarded, uploaded etc. If a photo of them is on another person’s phone it is out of their control. Even if they have a completely gentleman-like, trustworthy boyfriend, that’s not to say that he hasn’t shared with phone password with a friend who may choose to rummage through his phone and come across the photos! Teenagers need to understand there is absolutely no 100% safe way to sex in this digital age. It may also be worth mentioning that underage sexting is illegal in Australia – and both the recipient (the boyfriend) and the creator (your daughter!) could be up for child pornography charges.
Consider apps: Depending on the age of your daughter, and your level of concern about such risks you may like to consider implementing filtering and monitoring software. There are thousands of these available on the market, which allow parents to exercise some level of control over what apps and sites your child can access. I am proud to be a Cyber Expert working alongside one such platform, Family Zone.
These measures by no means guarantee your daughter won’t get caught up in something like what we’ve just seen in the news, but with education, communication and greater understanding of the nature of digital sharing hopefully we can reduce the impact sexting can have on teenager’s lives.
Further to this, let’s hope that measures can also be taken to educate boys about how this behaviour is not socially acceptable. The invasion of privacy and malicious nature of this incident highlights the need to be addressing the perpetrators of these attacks as much as those who have ended up as victims. But that’s for another blog post!