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The dangers of sexting

ISABEL BIRD | The Examiner | Aug. 4, 2012, 4:27 p.m.

Young people don't care about the consequences of sexting, says the Youth Network of Tasmania.

Young people posting naked or semi-naked photos of themselves on social media are aware of the risks of ``sexting'' but do not care about the consequences, says a Tasmanian youth advocacy group.

Sexting involves photos and messages of a sexual nature being sent or received by young people via mobile phones, online or social media.

The practice of taking ``selfies''among young people - photos taken by the person of themself - and posting on Facebook is also a common occurrence.

But the wider implications including the ease of digital transmission, the opportunity for photos to end up in paedophile rings and the possible future effect on employment opportunities are not being understood.

Youth Network of Tasmania chief executive Joanna Siejka said that while many schools provided education on these matters it was not enough.

Young people were still sexting despite knowledge of the risks, she said.

``There seem to be educational projects but perhaps there is not enough of the sort that young people are responding to,'' Ms Siejka said.

``If there was we would probably see less sexting.''

Ms Siejka said she believed sexting was closely related with low self esteem and peer pressure.

She said compulsory and increased sex and relationship education was needed in schools to address the issue.

Sexting content can include words, photos or video, which may be tame in the sense of flirting or asking peers out on dates, but can also be sexually explicit.

``Pictures of private areas tends to be quite common,'' Ms Siejka said.

``Some of the stories I have heard have been quite humiliating, in terms of who might actually be seeing the picture. It might be just for a friend, their boyfriend or girlfriend, and it has ended up not just amongst peers, but a family friend or adult.''

Launceston College student Bray Austin, 16, said he had a friend who was forced to change schools after she sent a naked picture of herself to one person that ended up being seen by the whole school.

``She was really embarrassed and actually wanted to move out of the state,'' Bray said.

He and fellow Launceston College students Jason Taylor, 18, Cassie Kidd, 17, and Shannen Constant, 17, said that peers often knew of these consequences in sending potentially damaging photos but just did not care.

``You see on Facebook (when) some girls put photos up . . . they are standing in their bathroom and take selfies of themselves in their new bikini or the new bra and undies they have just bought. They just don't care,'' Bray said.

Ignoring the consequences can be extremely damaging, as headspace Northern Tasmania's Wayne Frost pointed out.

``When people release content about themselves, once that content is given to another person, they no longer have control over it,'' Mr Frost said.

``The potential is there for that person to receive a lot of negative feedback, to harm the person's reputation and integrity and have an impact on how that person perceives themselves. There is great potential for the material to be used against a person in a demeaning way.''

Mr Frost added that such content could remain around for a long time and affect job opportunities and reputation in the future.

Family Planning education and health officer Carolyn Bennett co-ordinates sexting education programs in schools around Tasmania.

``Kids are using their phones more explicitly to communicate. Rather than meeting somebody and having a chat with them and becoming a little bit open, that relationship build up is not happening,'' Ms Bennett said.

``They are saying things up front by explicitly texting . . . without that level of responsibility and awareness of the implications and (possible) legal ramifications.

``Sometimes they will take pictures of themselves as part of the flirting process and forward that on,'' she said.

Australian Parents Council Tasmania executive director Ian Dalton said parental concern about the inappropriate use of photos on social media was building.

``There are a lot of social media trends that parents are worried about, particularly in those areas that they don't necessarily understand themselves,'' Mr Dalton said.

``It is an issue that parents often don't feel equipped in and of themselves to deal with appropriately, so they are looking for guidance and support.

``Schools are generally taking this issue pretty seriously.''

Courtesy of The Examiner


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