SEXTING So What’s The Big Deal

An Extra Layer of Protection

Key Messages for young people about sexting

The More You Know

Having conducted countless online safety presentations over the years, few subjects trigger greater angst for parents than the topic of sexting. Picturing their child sharing nude or nearly nude images on the Internet sends most parents into a state of sheer panic or complete denial.

In Canada, research shows that sexting amongst young people is a frequent occurrence. According to a MediaSmarts study from 2014, eight per cent of students in grades 7-11 with cell phone access, send sexts. This same study noted that by grade 11, that number increased to fifteen per cent and that twenty-four per cent of students in grades 7-11 with cell phone access had received a sext sent directly to them.

In Australia, the term image-based abuse, is used to describe the sharing of humiliating and sexually explicit material. Research findings recently released, reveal that one in five Australians have experienced image-based abuse, which is up from one in ten, only two years ago.

A Dutch campaign reported that only six per cent of Dutch boys and fourteen per cent of Dutch girls have had negative experiences with sexting. This campaign titled, ‘Hou het lekker voor jezelf,’ (‘Keep it to yourself’), not only informs Dutch youngsters about the risks of sexting, but also gives them safer sexting tips. These tips include comments like “don’t include your face, any recognizable tattoos or birthmarks, only send nudes to people you already know, trust for a while off-line and agree to delete nudes after seeing them”. This study went on to say, “aside from being part of a cluster of risky behaviours, however, there is little evidence that sending sexts is by itself a risky act.”

So is the practice of sexting not that big of a deal anymore? Is sexting now being accepted by the community as just a normal part of a child growing up in this new technological era?

As parents grapple with their kids sharing intimate images online and the police struggling to keep up with the rapidly growing increase in online child sexual exploitation, I believe we need to come together and strongly declare that the practice of sexting, no matter how it is done, is totally unsafe and completely dangerous. Once these images are shared over the Internet, whether the victim consents to it or not, there is going to be non-contact sexual abuse. Further, would it not make sense that if significant efforts were made to halt this insidious abusive activity, then at the very least the purveyors of child pornography would find less sexual content to trade, share and view?

Most parents cannot believe their child would willingly take an intimate picture of themselves and then simply share it with someone on the Internet. However, this practice seems to be more palatable to parents if they believe that predators on the Internet apply expert grooming techniques to pressure and manipulate children into sharing nude or nearly nude images.

Online exploitation by child predators occurs frequently today and is extremely dangerous for all involved. Unfortunately, young people are unknowingly contributing a plethora of intimate images to these image banks when they believe they are in a relationship, or they are flirting or trying to get attention from someone they know, or have recently met online, by sharing nude or semi-nude pictures. We know these pictures are widely shared by recipients; is it now becoming acceptable for organizations to give the green light for young people to share intimate images? Have we thought about the long-term risks of taking intimate images and sharing them online?

In reality, when a child shares intimate images on the Internet their entire family becomes victims of non-contact sexual abuse. Both the child and their family can experience long-term anxiety and stress from the knowledge, whether they believe it or not, that these nude or nearly nude images are being spread like wildfire, as they are viewed, shared and otherwise circulated in a technological environment. The loss of control and the fact that intimate images could resurface at any time leads to ongoing anxiety. And, the reality is sophisticated communications technology will increase the potential for increased production, better quality and faster sharing of compromising images by young people simply carrying smart devices.

So what can we do? Education is critical and so is sharing stories with others about how child exploitation and human trafficking rings operate on the Internet. For example, there was a recent arrest in the U.S. involving six men operating a sophisticated web ring, frequenting Internet forums like Kik, Instagram and Skype to target young underage girls primarily ages 10 to 14. This group lured children into private group, chat sessions where they took on the role of either hunters, talkers, loopers or watchers. These predators would encourage a game of dare, that escalated into sexual activity where the looper would play a video of a teenage boy engaging in sexual acts to encourage the victim to also strip off and perform for the group. Over the course of three years, these six offenders accumulated hundreds of images and videos. The criminal sentence for these offenders totals 171 years for offences including producing and viewing child abuse images, engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, committing conspiracy to access with intent to view child pornography, and enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. In this incident alone, the non-contact images of child sexual abuse will likely be distributed and broadcast over the Internet for years to come.

Education and focusing on raising awareness is critical for everyone. Children and youth need to be told in no uncertain terms that creating or sending sexually explicit images can be extremely damaging to their emotional wellbeing because of the long-term potential for harassment, embarrassment, blackmail and exploitation. They need to know that online sexual predators frequently disseminate playful or sexually explicit messages in locations that young people frequent. They must understand that online relationships can happen very quickly or develop over a prolonged period of time. And, when it comes to online child sexual exploitation they need to understand how a groomer uses techniques to build an emotional relationship with them to normalize sexual activity. Moreover, it is important to make sure young people understand they have choices when they are online and they do not have to believe everything their online contacts are telling them.

Finally, the police should always be involved when young people are blackmailed or pressured into sharing a nude or nearly nude image.

Below are some tips for parents dealing with the issue of sexting:
If the image is posted to a website or is on an app, take a screen shot of the picture and save it or print the page. Document times, dates, links, emails, IM’s anything you have related to the image(s).
Request removal. The Canadian website provides information, resources and tools to help you remove sexual pictures and videos from popular providers where the picture/video may be displayed on the Internet.
Request that image(s) be immediately removed from the website as it violates their terms of use and is causing personal/professional harm. The website may not remove a picture just because it is unflattering.

Consider reporting the incident to your local police department. If this is an emergency call 9-1-1. Show the police the screen shot or any other evidence you may have collected, complete a witness statement if requested and explain all of your actions to date. Record the police case number and forward it to the website or any other organizations you have already reported the incident to. The police may follow-up on their own time and with their own investigative procedure.

Speak to someone at your child’s school to request an educational session be held for the grades involved. These incidents are never just between two people, there are often hundreds of people viewing and forwarding these pictures and schools are often the collection point.

Key Messages for young people about sexting:

– Never share sexually explicit images of yourself online with anyone. This is extremely dangerous and it may have long-term adverse effects on you personally and professionally.

– Speak up if you receive a photo that is humiliating, rude, obscene, harmful and/or sexually explicit. Immediately tell someone that can help such as a parent, teacher, coach, lawyer, website or possibly the police.

– Do not share or forward an image of anyone that is inappropriate as this could be against the law. It is illegal to share intimate images of a person, regardless of their age, without the consent of the person in the image. An “intimate image” is defined under the Canadian Criminal Code as an image depicting a person engaged in explicit sexual activity or that depicts a sexual organ, anal region or breast. The image would have to be one where the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

– If it is appropriate, speak to the subject of the image yourself. They may not be aware their picture is being distributed and they may need to immediately take action to control the damage. If you (a person under 18 years of age) receive a sexually explicit picture from an adult, report this immediately to the police, a parent or guardian, or to

– Everything you do online leaves a digital footprint. Even when using websites or apps that appear anonymous, there are always opportunities to capture screen shots. Disable or obscure your computer’s webcam. Don’t do anything in front of a camera that would not want the world to see.

– If you are considering suicide, self-harm or are feeling depressed, seek professional support or counselling, at locations like or

– Depending on the situation, seek the support of others. Your school principal, counsellor, teacher, school board, superintendent, coach, school resource officer, website involved, Internet Service Provider, a civil lawyer, or to websites like Cybertip. Depending upon the situation, all of these can be done simultaneously.

– Be proactive. Set up an alert on your name, email/cellphone number to help monitor your online identity.
Change your passwords on all websites involved. Make sure you have a strong passcode established on your mobile devices.