Sexting Education

‘It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime,’ Jennifer Lawrence told Vanity Fair in an issue published earlier this year. The acclaimed actress is referring to none other than the notorious iCloud hacking campaign where private and intimate photographs of numerous celebrities – all but a few being female – were stolen and posted on the internet.

Another celebrity nude, another story that the tabloids can eat right up you may think, yet this episode may finally begin to reflect the ordeal that many young people across the globe have to go through and underline the seriousness of these situations.

However, the humiliation of having their personal, explicit photos spread around is not isolated to the bubble of the glitterati. Sexting has become common practice in 21st century relationships and whilst it is a symbol of sexual expression, a loving gesture or just simply an act of fun, the trend also can have serious implications for the participants, particularly high school pupils. Childline reported that in 2012/2013 there was a 28% increase in calls to them mentioning ‘sexting’ than the year before highlighting the growing extent of the problem amongst young teenagers.

Anecdotally, I can recall an abundance of stories from my time at high school, many of which followed the same lines: a girl sending a nude picture to a boy for his eyes only for it to shared around. One time, our school actually held an assembly over a video of a girl performing a sexual act. Our head of year emphasised to us that all copies of the video had to be deleted as the girl was underage and owners could run into legal problems. Yet, this was the only time our school ever addressed an issue of this sort and no attempt through education was ever made to prevent similar situations prevailing.

My school is not atypical in having cases like this and the impact is so damaging for the victims – that girl left school pretty shortly after and it is hard to imagine the distress she went through. So how does this level with celebrities’ experiences? Frankly until this year, it didn’t really. Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian managed to actually capitalise on their leaked sex tapes and boost their careers. Vanessa Hudgens quickly apologised and Disney accepted her back into the High School Musical franchise. Photos of Chris Brown and Dappy unclothed had minimal effect on their careers. In an industry where nudity is so recurrent in music videos, film and fashion shoots, the people are pretty merciful. In a tight-knit high school community, they are not.

Then came along the latest bout of Hollywood targets, Lawrence being one of the most prominent due to her A-list status and the number photos of her posted. The cult of personality that Lawrence possesses due to her quirky interview technique and down to earth likeability made it easy for fans and by-standers to empathise with her through this “scandal.”

Like so many before her, Lawrence spoke about voyeurism in her interview with Vanity Fair saying that those who looked at the pictures were “perpetuating a sexual offence.”  A part of me wanted for Jennifer to embrace it, she looked beautiful, but to think that is to dismiss the anguish that she has gone through. For here we have a role model who is not attention driven, has a reputation at stake and did not resurface from this incident unscathed.

Perhaps, these leaks will shed light  on the fact that sexting does happen (which isn’t wrong in itself) but the severe impact it can sometimes have. Seemingly, there has been a lack of discussion between schools, parents, politicians and the media even though the vast majority of young people own a camera phone and have internet access.

Teachers teach their pupils about chlamydia and mothers put their daughters on the pill but nude image sharing often doesn’t make the agenda. Likewise, we have it pummelled into us from a young age not to talk to strangers online but what about being too trusting with the people we do know? When the possible outcomes involve trauma for the victim and legal implications for the perpetrator, this is not a topic we can shy away from.

[Victoria Powell]

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