Teens Need to Be Aware of 'Revenge Porn' Risks Too

'Sexting' is playing an increasingly insidious role in young people's relationships. So there is clearly a need to educate children about the risks of this behaviour to them and other young people whose images they share.

Anyone who shares sexually explicit images without consent could be jailed for up to two years from today, as new revenge porn laws come into force.

The new law applies to adults, but young people need to be aware that taking and sharing any indecent image of another teenager under 18, even when it was taken with their consent, is a serious offence.

'Sexting' is playing an increasingly insidious role in young people's relationships. So there is clearly a need to educate children about the risks of this behaviour to them and other young people whose images they share.

Children may take these images to please a boyfriend or girlfriend but things can quickly spiral out of control. Relationships break down and in a moment of spite images can be shared widely.

Sometimes a boyfriend sends an image or video to a mate to show off, who in turn may post it online. With a few clicks, what is meant to be private is being seen on hundreds of websites, potentially ending up in sex offender collections.

Young people frequently take huge risks by making and sending explicit images of themselves, thinking it harmless. A recent survey by ChildLine of 13-18 year-olds visiting the site found that 60% said they had been asked for a sexual image or video of themselves, four in ten said they had created this and a quarter of those questioned had sent the image or video on to someone else. While most of the requests for sexual images or videos came from a partner, a third said they received requests from strangers. They are exposing themselves to potential humiliation, bullying, or worse.

The process is not always consensual and girls in particular say they can be harassed relentlessly until they agree to provide an image or video. This manipulation may be part of a more widely threatening relationship in which a partner tries to exert control and power over the young person. The nature of technology means explicit images and videos can be created and shared very quickly on smartphones, via webcam or tablets - and it's only later children realise the extent of the damage that has been done.

The following example of a ChildLine call is typical:

"I sent my ex-boyfriend some naked pictures when we were together because I trusted that he would keep them private. Now we've split up he's started showing them to everyone. People at school have stopped talking to me, and have said that I'm disgusting. I don't know what to do? I'm so ashamed of myself."*

It is vital children know the risks and know what to do if something goes wrong. They can feel humiliated, betrayed, or even suicidal when it does. A number of high profile cases have shown the tragic consequences of what can happen when a child is manipulated into sending sexual images and then can't cope with the events that follow, taking their lives as a result.

This isn't a problem that is going away.

Last year there was a 28% increase in calls to ChildLine that mentioned sexting - nearly one every day.

ChildLine offers practical support to children who have sent an image or video, including an app, Zipit, which is designed to defuse some of the pressures around sexting. It's full of advice, tips for safe chat and comebacks with images to help shut down conversations that are making a young person feel uncomfortable. Young people can even call ChildLine direct from the app.

Statutory sex and relationship education is in urgent need of updating and must include risks such as sexting. What children get in schools doesn't always reflect the pressures and threats they face daily in the digital world. The NSPCC wants all children to have age appropriate sex and relationship education as part of their curriculum in schools - which takes into account the impact of things like online safety, sexting, the potentially corrosive effect of pornography, and promotes healthy and loving relationships. Teachers need to feel confident enough to deliver these lessons and get proper training to engage young people in class.

Parents need to not only use the technological controls available but be active in talking to their children about the risks of sexting and revenge porn, how to stay safe online, exercising digital judgement and offer reassurance that they can speak to them if something ever makes them feel scared or worried. This may seem difficult to start but there are tips on the NSPCC website. Make sure your child is comfortable saying no, that they know their body is private and that they shouldn't feel pressure to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Young people often feel extremely desperate when an explicit image is shared. But there is help out there if the worst happens. ChildLine and the Internet Watch Foundation can support young people to have their image removed from public sites, and help them move on positively.

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