What initially started as "kids behaving badly," sexting has grown to become a significant threat to the safety and bell-being of children. Now, the newest trend, using "sexted" images to blackmail, is making sexting a major tool for child predators and molesters.
Sexting, the act of sending nude, semi-nude or otherwise sexually explicit images, usually by cell phone, has significant legal and reputation risks. What might have been originally intended for one person (maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend) is all too easily spread to others when strained relationships lead to maliciousness. Once spread via email, text forwarding or social networking, the images are potentially impossible to retrieve and are essentially available to the world, forever. This applies equally to classmates as it does to future college admission officials or potential employers.
Once the malicious forwarding of sexting images begin, legal ramifications start, and can even come back to haunt the original creator of the images. Across the country, creators of sexting images have been charged with creation or distribution of child pornography even though they were only meant for one person – the person who ended up forwarding the images without permission.
When it comes to protection children from child sexual abuse however, sexting has implications that go beyond ruined reputations and legal problems. Sexting has become a valuable tool for predators and masters to use in grooming and trapping children.
In a previous blog post on my site, I discussed how child predators and molesters use the grooming phase to facilitate their ability to sexually abuse a child, and the trapping phase to prevent the child from reporting the abuse. Sexting has come to be useful in both of these processes.
During the grooming phase, two key objectives are to desensitize the child-victim to sexual activity and to encourage rule-breaking in order to test the child and provide the predator with leakage. Often child molesters will use pornography (depicting both adults and children) to desensitize potential child victims to sexual activity. Separately, they also seek out opportunities to pressure the child to bend or break rules both in order to test their willingness to do so, but to use as a minority form of blackmail to coerce participation in the grooming phase and / or even sexual activity.
Sexting is an all-in-one mega-tool for molesters. By asking their intended child victim to send sexting images of themselves, sometimes even using tricky schemes (such as posing as someone else) they can simultaneously desensitize them to sexual activity with ease because the child can create these images in private and will therefore not be as inhibited. Furthermore, because of the potential reputation and legal consequences, the sexting images become blackmail material to use against the child. This blackmail is not only useful in the grooming phase to gain compliance, but is also of great use in the trapping phase to ensure that the child does not report the abuse.
I think sexting is a very real and very significant threat to the well-being of our children. Here are some steps to minimize the chances your child will engage in this very risky activity.
1. Execute a Safe Cell Phone Usage Agreement. I discussed this in a previous blog post on my website and also have a sample you can use.
2. Discuss the "no-delete" nature of the internet . I think it is worth our while to teach children how anything posted or sent through the internet or via cell phone can "go viral" and be viewed by the world. Forever. Use examples (do a search for "viral video" or "viral photo").
3. Instill an attitude of gratitude. I really believe that children who are genially grateful for everything they have in life, and for the potential to live a limitless, fulfilling life, are less likely to engage in highly risky, pointless, activities.
4. Re-think camera phones . Contrary to what they might tell you, your 14 year-old does not need an iPhone or any phone with a camera. Cell phones might be a good idea for staying in touch, and texting might even be useful, but a camera phone is just like giving them a computer with a web-cam on it and putting it in their bedroom. It's tempting fate.
5. Be their safe-harbor. One of the best ways to nullify blackmail of our children is for us, as parents and other people who protect them, to be their safe-harbor. In other words, they should absolutely know that any time they are in trouble, are scared, are concerned, or have questions about their safety, they can come to us. No questions asked, no punishment, nothing. I even recommend implementing a Safe Harbor Agreement with them so they know you are serious. You can get a sample of such an agreement on my website.
Please let me know what you think? What is driving the sexting phenomena and what can we as parents and child serving professionals do to curb it? Let's keep the discussion going here or on my Facebook Fanpage .