‘Sexting’ more of a worry than stranger danger

A new in depth study launched by the NSPCC reveals the level that ‘sexting’ has reached among teenagers has increased, with schoolgirls facing pressure to provide sexually explicit pictures of themselves.

The qualitative study based on a focus group of 35 young people shows that while they are increasingly savvy at protecting themselves from so called ‘stranger danger’, they are having to face a new problem of ‘peer to peer’ approaches, with boys constantly demanding sexual images.

While some girls are developing sophisticated techniques to deal with this pressure, others are left struggling to cope and feeling unsure of what to do.

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The research, undertaken by the Institute of Education, King’s College London and the London School of Economics, sought the views of 13-15-year-olds at two London schools. Previous research has shown that more than a third of under-18s have received an offensive or distressing sexual image by text or e-mail.

Jon Brown, Head of the Sexual Abuse Programme at the NSPCC, said: “What’s most striking about this research is that many young people seem to accept all this as just part of life. But it can be another layer of sexual abuse and, although most children will not be aware, it is illegal.

“Girls should never be forced to carry out sex acts and boys must understand it’s not acceptable to put them under such duress that they have little choice but to agree. It’s very concerning that whilst young people seem to have a solid grasp of ‘stranger danger’ they are often struggling to cope with problems from their own peer group.

“This can’t be treated as just one of those phases children go through. And although some of it may sound familiar from previous generations, the difference is that the consequences are now far wider with images remaining forever and potentially being viewed by mass audiences. They can also fall into the hands of adult abusers.

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“It must be dealt with properly with parents, teachers, industry and other professionals working together to give victims the protection they need.”

The study reveals girls can be pestered relentlessly until they finally agree to perform sexual acts which can be recorded on mobile phones. These can then be broadcast to groups of young people leaving the devastated victim to face ridicule and abuse. Researchers found there were ‘significant numbers’ in circulation with one boy alone claiming to have 30.

In some cases the girls even write a name in black marker pen on a part of their body to show it’s the ‘property’ of a certain boy.

In a bid to start tackling the problems raised by this work the NSPCC is calling for all professionals to receive training in the latest technology so they are better equipped to deal with sexting. It also wants secondary schools and the communications industry to give young people better protection through education which promotes considerate, respectful relationships. And parents must talk to their children about this issue and the potentially serious ramifications of their actions.

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