eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, discusses the issue of nude photo sharing among young people and the education resources available to assist teachers and parents to respond to it.
It’s on the news, it’s in our feeds and it’s even the theme of our television shows: the sharing of intimate images or videos without consent is one of the big issues faced by young people, families and school communities today.
A recent Australian drama on SBS, The Hunting, accurately depicted the community-wide fallout of a teen nude photo scandal, where the collision of technology and sexual exploration was devastating.
It’s the responsibility of everyone in our communities to support young people to use digital devices and online services in safe, informed, respectful and responsible ways.
As a first line of defence, parents and teachers can start age-appropriate conversations about acceptable and harmful online behaviours. To assist, eSafety collaborated with SBS to develop education resources that have practical information about how to handle image sharing and cyberbullying, and how to talk about respect and consent online.
At eSafety we acknowledge that the sexual development of young people is a delicate and vulnerable time. We also understand that often the practice of non-consensual image-sharing is less about sexual curiosity and exploration, and more about exhibiting power over peers. With girls and young women much more likely to have their image shared without consent, there is no denying that image-based abuse is also a gendered issue.
However, there is always a choice between calling out harmful behaviour or feeding into it. So much of this comes down to helping young people stand-up to friendship pressures and to challenge the status quo of stereotypical, sexist behaviours.
Parents and carers can positively influence their children’s sexual exploration, helping to bolster both their safety and their ability to develop and navigate healthy, respectful and consenting intimate relationships. It’s important to play an active role in shaping their values, attitudes and expectations, because what they see and do online is difficult to predict or control.
Exposure to sexually explicit material can also desensitise them, so it’s essential to have these delicate conversations sooner rather than later – particularly about the reality (or fictitiousness) of pornography. Parents can point out that portrayals of male dominance and female subservience are neither healthy nor something to aim for.
As adults, we can play a part in guiding young people to understand intimacy should be founded in respect, trust, empathy and clear consent.
You can help parents at your school start conversations with their young people about sexually sensitive issues online by directing them to the Hunting Parent Discussion Guide.
Schools should also examine their systemic preparedness for preventing and responding to the sharing of intimate images. Schools should be ready for when the issue arises. Questions need to be asked about how incidents involving explicit imagery will be handled and by whom.
Curriculum is also an important consideration – content that explores age and stage appropriate themes of privacy, respect, intimacy and consent in all contexts, including online, should be scaffolded across K-12 and embedded within all subject areas.
School leaders also play a critical role in ensuring their staff are equipped and confident to have conversations about what healthy, respectful, trusting relationships look like, so they become part of practice for every teacher, every day.
Students tend to be more responsive to these sensitive subjects when they are delivered by prepared and assured teachers. There is no better time for principals to be investing in the capacity building of their staff with sound, evidence based professional learning on digital wellbeing.
More broadly, we all need to challenge and reject attitudes that allow anyone to think the non-consensual sharing of intimate images is harmless, funny or justified. We need to help young people understand that while technology can be used to express sexuality or share intimacy, it’s not without risk, responsibility and potentially devastating impacts. We are all responsible for being aware that when a nude photo is shared without consent, it’s a serious breach of trust that can be felt for a lifetime.
eSafety is committed to providing information and advice about image-based abuse and other online safety issues, as well as curriculum-aligned educational resources. We also support Australians who have experienced the sharing of intimate images without consent – including the threat to share nude photos or videos – by providing reporting options, support and resources for victims and those close to them. We have helped over 1400 Australians remove such images from public view, with a 90 per cent success rate, and we are exercising new civil powers targeting individual perpetrators and content hosts. You can visit eSafety’s image-based abuse portal for more info or to report by clicking here.