Schoolgirls as young as 12 will be taught how to send naked selfies in Victorian schools.
The ‘Art of safe sexting’ program is to be rolled out in classrooms to instruct school girls how to ‘safely’ send nude images of themselves, apparently by cropping out their heads and faces and any identifying features.
In a five-minute video on Rosie website, girls are told that “sending a nude pic of yourself can be a fun and flirty thing to do” and given tips on “sexting done right”. It also provided information about relevant laws and some of the risks of sending naked images.
Program author Briony O’Keefe argued, “We know they are going to engage in it, so a harm minimisation approach is really important.” However, experts have slammed the program and accused it of promoting misinformation.
Former Victoria Police officer and cyber-safety expert Susan McLean called the information “flakey” and “a crap resource”, and emphasised there was no safe way to send a naked image.
Collective Shout co-founder and advocate for women and girls Melinda Tankard Reist said that encouraging teen girls to crop their heads and faces out of sexualised images serves to further dehumanise girls:
“The art of safe sexting' advises girls to crop out their faces from nude images before sending. This just de-humanises the sender even more and exposes the complicity of the program's designers in encouraging girls to send de-personalised/ disembodied sexual body parts for boys to get off on.”
The program does a disservice to girls by promoting sexting as a potentially fun and sexy activity. The reality is more complicated, with many teen girls reporting feeling pressured and coerced to send nude photos, and a widespread culture of sexual harassment, disrespect and male entitlement.
A study out of Northwestern University earlier this year revealed teen girls’ experiences of being pressured to send nude images. Researchers analysed 500 accounts from teenage girls, finding two-thirds had been asked to send explicit photos, with boys engaging in threats and harassment if they did not comply. In response, 20% of the girls gave in.
The adolescent girls shared both immediate and long-term repercussions of saying no to boys’ demands. Out of the 500, only 12 said there was no backlash from refusing boys’ requests for naked images. Girls described feeling trapped, stuck or scared of the consequences of saying both yes or no. One reported death threats after saying no. Read more.
Closer to home, a Plan International Australia and Our Watch survey in 2016 of 600 girls aged 15-19 found that levels of abuse and harassment were endemic:
58% agreed girls often receive uninvited or unwanted indecent or sexually explicit material such as texts, video clips and pornography.
51% agreed that girls are often pressured to take sexy photos of themselves and share them.
82% believe it is unacceptable for a boyfriend to ask a girlfriend to share naked photos of themselves.
The harm minimisation approach which encourages girls to crop photos of identifying features implies that the only harm in underage girls sending naked photos of themselves lies in later being identifiable. However, she would be identifiable by other means if the recipient wanted to get revenge and share the image. It’s also not unheard of for men and boys to photoshop heads onto such photos.
The program completely ignores the overarching problem of girls existing as a pornographic supply for boys. We do not see websites devoted to ‘dick pics’ or to humiliating men and boys, however boys trade sexual images of girls like trading cards. Encouraging girls to participate ‘safely’ does not challenge this culture of objectification or the entitlement of men and boys. It is clear this practice does not quench boys thirst for objectified women, it makes it worse.
“Harm minimisation” fails to address the actual factors at play- the pressures on women and girls to send sexual images against their will. Teaching young women how to acquiesce to men and boys’ coercion and sexual demands is not a solution.
While there is a need to have frank and open discussions with young people about sexting, legitimising the practice as a fun, sexy activity does a great disservice to girls, many of whom have openly described their reluctance.
Far from empowering young women, the ‘Art of Safe Sexting’ encourages underage girls to tolerate and embrace requests for sexual images even while teen girls are reporting feeling trapped, stuck, scared, pressured and coerced. Legitimising sexting does not minimise harm, it undermines girls’ ability to say no.