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That Picture is Not as Private as You think

What is “sexting?”

Most teens today are comfortable with documenting their lives online. Posting photos, updating their status messages, sharing rapid-fire texts, and being a click away from friends are the new normal for teens. But this “always on” culture also creates an environment where teens can make impulsive decisions that can come back to haunt them. Sexting is combining the word sex and text- is ’the act of sending sexually explicit photographs and messages primarily between cell phone’. The first known published mention of the term “sexting” was in a 2005 article. It now occurs all around the world, including Canada.

Sexting is a result of advances in technology enabling new forms of social interaction. Messages with sexual content have been exchanged over all forms of historical media. Newer technology allows sending pictures, and videos, which are intrinsically more explicit and have greater impact, without the involvement of photo printing personnel, or the need of a photo processing. The danger with sexting is that material can be very easily and widely sent, over which the originator has no control.

When people take and send sexually revealing picture of themselves or send sexually explicit messages via text message, it’s called “sexting.” While experts differ on statistics, a 2010 study conducted by Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms sexting is a teen reality that’s here to stay. Kids “sext” to show off, to entice someone, to show interest in someone, or to prove commitment.

Sending these pictures or messages is problematic enough, but the real challenge comes when this content is shared broadly. As far too many teens have found out, the recipient of these messages is in possession of a highly compromising image or message that can be easily posted on a social networking site or sent to others via email or text.

Why do Teens Sext?

Pew Research Centre (2009) found that most cases of teen sexting fell into the following three categories:

  • Exchange of photos solely between romantic partners in a relationship.
  • Exchange of photos between two people not in a relationship but where one of the people sends a sext in the hope that it will help to start a romantic relationship between the two.
  • Exchange of photos between romantic partners or the sending of photos from one person to another with the hope of starting a relationship but the photos are then sent to additional people

What is the Big Deal About Sexting?

The concern with sexting occurs when that explicit photo lands in the hands, or on the phone, of someone. In a technology world where anything can be copied, sent, posted, and seen by huge audiences, there’s no such thing as being able to control information. Once it is out in cyberspace the photo is now public. This explicit photo can be sent to friends, employers, posted on facebook, sent to school personnel or a parent. It may also find its way to the police. Sexting has also been used to bully teens. There are teens that have actually committed suicide because they were being harassed, called names like slut or whore. These victims were miserable, depressed and became afraid to go to school. It ended by the taking of their own life.

What About Sexting and Canadian Law?

According to the Law Foundation of Canada, for adults, exchanging nude photos electronically is, under most circumstances, a legal activity. However, the creation and sending of nude photos of people under the age of 18 does, technically speaking, break Canada’s child pornography laws. The child pornography sections of the Criminal Code of Canada are intended to prevent the sexual exploitation of young people. Specifically, the Criminal Code Section 163.1 on child pornography makes clear that the creation and distribution of images depicting sexual activity or the depiction of a sexual organ of a person under the age of 18 is a criminal offense (for the actual wording of the law, see Department of Justice, 2011). The primary objective of this law is to protect children and teens under age 18 from being exploited and harmed by adults through the creation and distribution of child pornography. In general, the intended purpose of the child pornography law does not include the prosecution of teens for the taking and sharing of nude photos as long as the photos are kept private between the original partners (Slane, 2009). Nevertheless, sending nude photos of teens under age 18 over an electronic device is, technically speaking, a criminal offense.

What’s the Take Home Message?

  1. Will you feel comfortable that your privacy is protected if your current partner becomes your ex partner?
  2. There is no changing your mind in cyberspace- anything you send or post will never truly go away . You cannot delete a photo from cyber space.
  3. There are unexpected consequences it sexting images that are eventually seen by family members, friends, people who don’t like you, and even future employers.
  4. Sexting may violateCanadian child pornography laws especially if the photos are of a person under the age of 18 years.

Fast Facts

  • 25% of teens, primarily girls, have taken and sent nude photos via cell phones and computers 22% of teens admit that technology makes them personally more forward and aggressive.
  • 38% of teens say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely.
  • 29% of teens believe those exchanging sexy content are “expected” to date or hook up.
  • 39% of teens and 59% of young adults had sent sexually explicit text messages
  • 51% of teen girls give pressure from a guy as their reason for sending,
  • 66% of teen girls and 72% of young adult women claim the activity to be “fun & flirtatious.”
  • 17% of those who had received a sext reported that they had passed it along to one or more other people.
  • 25% of teen girls and 33% of teen boys reported that they had seen nude or semi-nude sexts intended for someone else.

Updated July 2013


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