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Sexting: if privacy is made public on the net

Education campaign Sexting
Education campaign Sexting: Sexting can make you famous
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As Sexting (composed of "sex" and "texting") refers to the sending of personal, intimate photos or videos of themselves or others. This is done via phone or Internet. Those images are initially only intended for the receiver. What initially begins as confidence, loyalty, and mutual love, has the potential to become a nightmare real quickly after the relationship ends and the once private photos are shared on the internet and become public property.

In particular young people, seem to be in dangers of a too permissive use of the Internet. It is impossible for them to estimate the full extent of what the internet can entail. As soon as an image is sent, there is no control anymore of what happens to it on the net. They are lead into believing in the anonymity of the internet, which lowers their inhibitions so that sending nude pictures or even porn becomes much less offensive. Many young people cannot estimate the implications of their actions and, therefore, do not realize the full impact when they simply forward received Sexting images.

Almost no teenager is aware, that keeping/sending of nude pictures of a minor is considered to be child pornography, which and can and will be charged accordingly with an entry to the sex offender record.

The story of the Canadian schoolgirl Amanda Todd (2012) initiated a debate throughout several Child Protection Organisations about how to deal with the issue of sexting. Amanda’s story was that she sent photos of her naked breasts to a man, who in return posted them on Facebook. Subsequently, Amanda became a victim of extreme abuse and bullying by her classmates. Unfortunately, the cyberbullying became so intense, Amanda was unable to cope with the pressure any longer and committed suicide. From an initial (maybe) innocent attempt to win the man over, a story of immense abuse unfolded, which eventually ended in a fatality.

What actually is sexting?

Basically, sexting is dirty talking, where the people concerned sending and receiving erotic or pornographic material. It seems, in particular, young adults and teens engage in this practice. According to a study, performed in the Anglo-American sector, 15 – 40% of youth are participating in sexting. In the USA alone, 60% of those young people also received nude photos with their messages, or as many as one in five sexters are actually coerced into sending sexual texts by threats or manipulation from their partner. In Germany, we can see the same trend. According to a survey by the Merseburg University, 20% of all girls and 11% of the boys, in the age between 16 – 18 years, have experienced sexting.

The motivation for sexting in young people is apparent. Mostly they are newly in love, hormones are raging and they also want to explore their sexuality. They not only wish to chat with their sweetheart but also want to be seen. So they pose, with little to no clothes in front of their smartphones and then send the image. That in itself is not really that bad – as long as this photo is not passed on to a third person or is shared on the net.

The dangers of sexting

A 14-year-old girl, near Fulda, learned about the unpleasant consequences when a compromising photo, which she trustfully sent to her boyfriend, reached the net. After her classmates had discovered the pictures, the girl became the laughingstock of the whole school.

The affected person in sexting needs help
The affected person needs help | Source and ©:

In most cases, in comes down to simple thoughtlessness when photos are shared on the internet. For boys, however, there can be another aspect: they want to show off their new girl. The see this particular photo as a kind of trophy. In other cases, however, sharing nude photos on the net can have more negative intentions such as envy or revenge. In the worst case scenario, it is child pornography.

Girls suffer those negative consequences much more than boys. The reason, as I understand it, is the traditional gender role. When it comes to sexual matters, much more restraint is expected from girls.

The campaign, by the Swiss organization Pro Juventute, "Sexting can’t make you famous" takes this gender role aspect further. They try to sensitize girls towards nude photos in an attempt to help them, not being tempted sending such images of themselves. It is somewhat easy to say that it was the fault of teenagers to become victims of sexting. However, as we said above, in most cases the young person is not aware of the dire consequences sexting can hold for them. It might be out of love, out of fear of losing their friend or simple naivety – most teens have no ill minded intentions by taking a quick photo of themselves and sending it off. The Swiss organization tries to inform, educate and raise awareness to this issue youth may face these days.

Education campaign from Pro Juventute (Switzerland) about sexting.
Education campaign from Pro Juventute (Switzerland) about sexting.
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In Germany, we are not quite there yet. However, the principals of some schools took action in regard to this subject matter and informed students and parents alike, with publications. Another cause for this initiative is the mere fact that some student mobiles are full of nude photos. - Unaware to the parents. If such a phone gets into the wrong hands and the photos are shared on the net, the mind boggles over the possible consequences for the victim.

What are the legal consequences of sexting photos?

In Germany - unlike in the US - the sending of compromising photos is not a criminal offense, provided that the characteristics of children's pornography are not yet fulfilled. Sharing them, however, is liable to prosecution, because various personal rights of the photographed as well as the right to one's own photo, is violated. Should such photographs be published on the Internet, individuals can enforce an injunction against the site operator, and make claims for possible damages. In reality, however, those offenses are rarely exposed for the mere fact that the victim is ashamed. The number of unreported incidences is assumed to be extremely high.

Sexting is not harmless and can have legal consequences for the sender, as well as for the recipient. Its regulation differs from country to country and the effects as well might be different.

How to protect afflicted persons?

It goes without saying, the best protection is, not to create any self-incriminating photos, respectively, sending them to somebody else. However, if you honestly can’t live without a nude photo of yourself, at least make sure that this image does not disclose your identity. Therefore, faces, tattoos, birthmarks, etc. should be unrecognizable or covered. While this does not prevent the photos to appear in unwanted places, at least the individuals do not have to fear any negative consequences.

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