SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: Sexting is a major risk for teenagers in today's digital world
Sexual violence can look very different from person to person, but the destruction that is caused by it runs deep and impacts the lives of everyone around it.
According to a study published by the Pew Research Center in 2018, 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone.
There are smartphone apps that allow teenagers to go online, watch videos and text. What do most teens say that they “really” use their cell phones for though? Texting. A total of 57% of teens indicated that they made new friends online and have never met their new friends. The average teen sends 67 text messages a day.
One of the major risks for teenagers today is sexting. What is sexting and why is it dangerous for your teenager? Sexting is sharing and receiving sexually explicit messages and nude or partially nude images through cell phones.
Sexts can be sent a few ways. They can be sent as text messages or they can be sent through apps on the phone. There are a few popular apps that sexts may be sent through. These apps are Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Why is sexting dangerous? Your teenager does not know where their picture is going or who their picture is being shared with and once it is sent it can never be taken back. There can be very devastating effects.
Your teenager can be at risk of getting in trouble at school or being bullied. There is also another risk that your child and you as a parent may never think about. It is federally illegal to send or receive a picture of a child under 18, regardless of age.
This means a minor can be prosecuted for sending and receiving sexts of anyone under the age of 18 because this would constitute child pornography. This is only prosecuted in very extreme cases.
When can sexting become even more of a threat? Your child could become a victim of sextortion. What is sextortion, and what can you do to help protect your teenager? Sextortion is when someone talks with your teenager and becomes someone that your teenager feels that they can trust and open up to.
This person will pretend they are a pretty girl or cool guy, they will make your teenager feel like they are the most important person to them. This person is learning everything they can about your teenager, but this opens your child up to what is called grooming.
Your teen’s "new friend" will learn all their vulnerabilities so that they can target and blackmail them. They will prey on your teenager in order to coerce them into obtaining a nude or sexual image before blackmailing them with it to get more nude or sexual images.
What can you do to help protect your teenager from these traps? Talk to them about “netiquette.” Reinforce the values of healthy relationships and talk to your teenager about not trusting everyone they meet online.
Stay involved with your teenager’s online life. Stay open with them and let them know that you are always there to help and that they don’t ever have to go through it alone. Help your child to identify two or three adults that they can talk to if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you.
Establish electronic rules and electronic free time. Learn how to set up privacy settings and how to report inappropriate content. Have open, respectful, and meaningful communication with your teenager.
If your teenager is a victim of sextortion, please contact CyperTipline at (800) 843-5678 cybertipline.org or your local law enforcement.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, advocates are here and ready to help you. Reach out to Support Within Reach at our 24/7 crisis hotlines: (800) 708-2727 in Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard and Cass, or (866) 747-5008 in Itasca and Aitkin Counties.
For more information about Support Within Reach, visit supportwithinreach.org.
Beth Wilson is an Itasca County criminal court advocate and SEY coordinator at Support Within Reach.