Let’s talk about the elephant in the room…. NUDES.

Teen sexting, the sending and receiving nudes or risqué images, has become the new ‘first base’. As educators in this space on a daily basis, anecdotally we have learned that it’s accepted as ‘normal’ to send your crush a ‘nude’ or to flirt online by sending a naked or sexual image. Let’s not tip-toe around this. It’s easy to take an explicit selfie and hit send. It’s also easy to store and hide these explicit images on a device using apps like a secret ‘Fake Calculator’ vault or ‘My Eyes Only’ on Snapchat.

According to an eSafety Commissioner survey, 9 out of 10 teens (14-17 years of age) thought sexting happened among their peers, and around 4 in 10 reported that it either happened often, or all the time. Of the teens surveyed, nearly 1 in 3 young people aged 14-17 years in Australia had some experience with sexting. This included sending, being asked or asking, sharing or showing nude or nearly nude images or videos. The statistics indicate that if young people aren’t being asked to send these explicit images, then it is something that is being spoken about within their peer groups. Additionally, social pressures to send nudes can intensify challenges young people face with self-image and self-esteem.

The good news.

Pressures from governments and child safety advocates are ensuring safety by design is at the forefront of technology developers’ minds. The Online Safety Act 2021 has seen improvements to the legislation and consequences for severe Cyberbullying, Image-based Abuse (IBA) and Illegal and Harmful Content. As a result, we are now seeing features and settings emerge across platforms, so keeping your devices updated is important. For example, Apple have recently released an opt-in feature that can scan for nude images. When receiving this type of content, the photo will be blurred and the child will be warned, presented with helpful resources, and reassured it is okay if they do not want to view this photo. Similar protections are available if a child attempts to send photos that contain nudity. Keep in mind, this will only work in iOS iMessage and will not translate across social networks such as Snapchat.

What are the sexting laws for minors in Australia​?

Young people who engage in sexting can also experience social and psychological consequences, including increased bullying, social isolation, shaming, severe anxiety, fear and depression. Although the personal and social implications that come from sexting are regularly emphasised to young people, this risky behaviour is still occurring. A recent Digital Habits Survey found that 1 in 5 teens have received a nude image. It is important that young people are aware of laws that can implicate minors involved with the sending or possession of explicit images of other minors.

In cases where images have been shared by others (beyond the intended person) the consequences can be severe, in some cases possible criminal prosecution. Image-based abuse (IBA) happens when an intimate image or video is shared without the consent of the person pictured. You can report Image-based Abuse via the Office of eSafety Commissioner.

In Australia, there are both federal and state laws and legislation related to sexting and child abuse material. In Victoria, for example, “sexting is a crime if you intentionally distribute an intimate image of a person under 18 to others, even if they agree to the sext message being sent. You could also be charged by police with child pornography offences”. Threatening to send an intimate image of a person to others, if the person believes that you will carry out the threat, may also be a criminal offence. Victorian Legal Aid highlights that under Commonwealth law you could be charged with child abuse material offences if you take, send, receive, make available, possess or store sexual or intimate photos of someone who is under 18 or who looks like or represents someone under 18. To learn more, please access the Legal Aid website. You can also visit Youth Law Australia with your teens to learn about which laws apply to them based on their age and state of residence.

How to protect young people from the risks of sexting and nude image sharing

Plan: Have those difficult conversations.

“Not my child…”

Even if you feel your child may not send nudes, it’s possible they may receive unsolicited sexual material from peers. Regular chats about all things technology can normalise conversations about online life and make those more difficult conversations that need to be had a little easier. These conversations can feel embarrassing, which can make it more difficult. Approaching with care, removing stigma and showing your willingness to chat about these topics will give your children confidence to reach out to you about challenging online situations. Start with non-threating questions, such as tapping into their personal opinions and feelings about the prospect of nude image sharing. This can gauge your child’s level of knowledge of the topic and help you prepare to educate them about the risks and dangers depending on their age.

Here are some suggested conversation starters that align with the Cyber Safety Project key values for a strong foundation of respectful digital citizenship:

 

  • RESPONSIBILITY: Do you know the laws around sending and receiving nude images?
  • RESPONSIBILITY: What would you do if you receive a nude or explicit image from a peer?
  • INTEGRITY: What do your friends think about sending nudes? Do you agree with them?
  • INTEGRITY: How could asking someone for a nude put your friend in a difficult position?
  • STRENGTH: What would you say if someone asked you to send them a nude?
  • STRENGTH: Why is it unsafe to send nude images, even to people we trust?
  • EMPATHY: If a nude image is being shared without someone’s consent, how might they feel?
  • EMPATHY: What do your friends think about sending nudes? Do you agree with them?

Prevent: Establish clear boundaries.

It should never be assumed that the responsible use of technology is common sense. Whilst young digital citizens are seemingly savvy with navigating technology, this does not mean they understand the challenges and risks with engaging with others online. Young people need guidance and clear boundaries as they learn to manage their own cyber safety and digital wellbeing. Here are our non-negotiables when establishing your Family Technology Use Agreement:

  • All personal devices are charged in a common area overnight.
  • No device use in bedrooms, bathrooms or toilets (this is where nude images are more likely to be taken).
  • Device and in-app profile settings reviewed as a family (monthly).

Protect: Keep your eyes peeled.

There are some cheeky and deceitful applications that can be downloaded to store photos in other ‘secret’ folders or vaults. Applications like Fake Calculator and Photo Vault store images away from the user’s Camera Roll into these ‘hidden’ folders to make them harder to find. These applications use cloud/server storage so the images can be removed from the phone’s storage with the hope that explicit images can’t be found. When monitoring your child’s devices, look every icon, even those that look like native apps such as the Calculator, Weather or Notes apps – they could be a hidden/secret vault.

Be cautious about encrypted apps such as Signal or Telegram Messenger and help educate the young people in your care about the use of Snapchat for nude image sharing and storing through the ‘my eyes only’ section.

Make use of our free resources for families. Take the conversation further with our Conversation Checklist and set up a Family Agreement for technology use. We have webinars and workshops that may help extend your family’s knowledge too.

Author: Trent Ray (Co-founder, Cyber Safety Project)