A high school student snaps an intimate photo of herself and sends it to her boyfriend, but then frets after they break up about what might happen to it
Maybe nothing happens. Or maybe the sexual image gets shared and posted online.
“Sexting” or sending sexual images over cellphones, was the focus of a talk Friday at the English Montreal School Board where staff gathered to hear Noni Classen from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
“It’s hard to measure, but what we do know is it’s happening much more than it’s reported,” Classen said of the practice among teenagers.
The Winnipeg-based charitable organization has seen about a 10 per cent increase in cases dealing with “sexting” on cybertip.ca, its tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children.
“And we know that we’re only getting the tip of the iceberg so we can say that it is a pervasive problem in that it’s occurring much more regularly than it used to.”— Noni Classen of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection
“And we know that we’re only getting the tip of the iceberg so we can say that it is a pervasive problem in that it’s occurring much more regularly than it used to,” said Classen, the centre’s director of education.
They hear about it when it becomes a problem for a kid, she said. They know there are cases involving boys as well, but girls are overrepresented in the reports they receive and what they hear.
The centre looked at 108 cases of teenage sexting reported to its tip line of photos being posted or shared. The vast majority of cases involved girls — 93. Parents knew about it in 35 cases and schools in only 19 instances.
Most of the reporting to the centre’s tip line is about adults involving things like child pornography and luring. But since 2005, they’ve started seeing an increase in reporting from kids because of this problem that they had “created content and it was causing distress for them. So they became the reporting person and the victim,” Classen said.
“We started looking at this going okay, there’s a problem. And our law enforcement partners … they started saying: ‘Oh my gosh, we’re being inundated by this.’ And then we started getting calls from schools and so realized we really need to take a look at this and put something together that’s more of a framework and a structured way to be walking through these cases to support kids.”
The centre has produced a resource guide for schools and families about “self/peer exploitation.” The section for families can be downloaded for free from the centre’s website. It also has a website, www.needhelpnow.ca, that offers information for teens who have been affected by the sharing of sexual images and videos with suggestions for how they can try to get them taken off the Internet.
Schools often call it cyberbullying and it’s because content has been created and then shared with other people beyond it’s intended recipient, Classen said.
“You also get a range. So you get some kids who it’s not a big deal, but they know that it’s a problem if there’s pictures being shared so we need to get the pictures down, we need to get the pictures contained. Other kids can’t stop worrying about it. It’s a huge source of anxiety for them. It’s a huge source of anxiety for their families … concern for what do we do, how do we deal with this?”
Can became suicidal
For others it’s so distressing they can became suicidal, Classen said.
It has become one of the issues they’re dealing with, said Pela Nickoletopoulos, principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Montreal North, who has had to intervene in a few cases.
“It is something that we come across in the school often enough,” said Jaimie Dimopoulos, a guidance counsellor at Rosemount High School.
“In the events that I’ve seen, it’s the students that are coming to see us because they feel stuck and they’re not sure what else they can do at this point,” Dimopoulos said.
In her experience, it has typically been girls sending pictures to their boyfriends “and then they’re kind of stuck with the boyfriends have this content now and they don’t feel safe with it, or they’ve now entered into an argument so they’re not sure how this will be used,” Dimopoulos said.