I’ve just been listening to an item on the Today programme about how to deal with the problems of sexting. This involves a teenager, almost always a girl, taking a nude photograph of herself and sending it, often under considerable pressure, to another teenager, almost always a boy. That boy then distributes it amongst all its mates who then send it to all their mates. They spoke to some boys who had done it and their motivation was, basically, nothing to do with the girl. She or her image, was simply a commodity to give them status amongst their peers.
One thing that struck me about the article is that if parents went to the Police, they were told that if they prosecuted the boy for distributing an illegal image of a child, they would also have to prosecute the girl for taking it.
There’s something about that that strikes me as fundamentally unfair. The girl is sending a photograph, albeit one that she’s too young to be taking, possibly under pressure, but on the basis that it’s for private consumption. The boy breaches that trust and spreads it. He, as far as I can see, gets away with few consequences while her life can be ruined. As ever, she’s the one who’s blamed, in the same way that a teenage girl who gets pregnant is blamed as though she did that alone.
It is illegal for under 16s to have sex with each other. They are going to do it, often mutually consensually happily. They can guard against, although not completely prevent, any consequences, in terms of pregnancy or STDs by using contraception. It’s not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, and I wouldn’t encourage any teenager to do it, but there are a fair few who won’t be bothered by that.
Sending a private photo to all and sundry, however, is an act which is by itself clear abuse.A girl taking the photo of herself and sending it to someone she trusts is not to blame for the abuse which follows, but she will bear the consequences for the rest of her life. She will be judged, humiliated and the sense of violation will be debilitating. The boy who distributes the photo has absolutely no penalty. Why can’t there be a presumption against prosecution of the girl but a presumption for prosecution of the boy. I don’t necessarily think that the boy should end up in prison, but I quite liked the NewYork idea mentioned on the programme of an order that they should be sent on some sort of education.
Having said all of that, the horse has left the stable, run the race, had its dinner and a satisfying nap by the time that the image gets out there.The most effective move is to stop it happening in the first place. How? More education, of course. But if boys knew that this was abuse, and that they could face consequences, not least their Granny finding out, for example, that education would be so much more effective.
Maybe there does need to be a bit of toughness here and a very strong message needs to be sent that this sort of abuse will not be tolerated.