Many revenge porn victims consider suicide | 2018-05-07 | daily-sun.com

Many revenge porn victims consider suicide

The Guardian     7th May, 2018 09:43:46 printer

Many revenge porn victims consider suicide

Adolescent sexual experimentation now takes place in a world where naked images can easily be shared without consent, with devastating consequences. It’s time for the educational establishment to take this on.

 

Sarah Richards was 15 when pictures of her naked were shared around her school.

Months earlier, her then-boyfriend had suggested they have a Skype video call. “I was super excited to be dating this person,” she says. “He was part of a group of boys that I really wanted to be friends with because I thought they were so cool. I had my first sexual experience with him, so I trusted him.”

 

Feeling confident and safe in the comfort of her own bedroom, she recalls how she got undressed for him on camera, making sure to not expose anything below her waist. “I just thought this was fun and innocent. It wasn’t pictures, so it seemed less permanent.” It wasn’t until months later, after breaking up with him, that Richards found out that screenshots had been taken without her consent.

 

She was ridiculed on social media, with Twitter posts, Facebook mentions and even lengthy YouTube videos dedicated to making fun of her developing, adolescent body. The campaign was accompanied by a hashtag and a logo that were based on an intimate body part. The bullying went on for months. Richards, who is now 21, felt trapped: “A lot of the abuse was online. And I still had to go to school every day. I was super angry and upset, but I was also wracked with guilt because I just thought: I brought this on myself.”

 

More than a third of girls have experienced some form of sexual harassment in UK mixed-sex schools, a study last year by the National Education Union and the pressure group UK Feminista revealed. An issue connected to this – and a growing concern in schools – is non-consensual sharing of nude images, otherwise known as revenge porn. According to a survey by the charity Childnet International, more than half of UK teenagers have friends who have shared intimate images of someone they know and 14% of girls say that they have been pressured to share nude images in the past year.

 

Technology, while central to young people’s lives, is a key factor in the emergence of these new forms of sexual harassment. Victims can’t hang up the phone to an online assault; it continues without them, lingering in cyberspace for years. Adolescents exploring their sexuality isn’t new, but the fact that their sexual experimentation takes place in an online world where the footprints are easily stored doesn’t make the process any easier. The backlash can be fatal: 51% of US revenge-porn victims have contemplated suicide, according to research carried out by the campaign End Revenge Porn.

 

Schools are only now playing catch-up – the sexual health curriculum in the UK has long been outdated. Presently, only students attending local-authority-run secondary schools – which make up about a third of schools overall – are guaranteed sex education. A survey of 16- to 24-year-olds by the Terence Higgins Trust revealed that one in seven students had not received any education on the subject of sex and relationships, while more than half of pupils received sex education no more than once a year during their education.

 

The current statutory guidance on sex education was published in 2000. The curriculum includes information on heterosexual relationships, covering what intercourse looks like, how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It doesn’t, however, cover other sexual orientations, sexting, online abuse, revenge porn or what consent in the digital realm looks like.

 

It is this lack of understanding that has led organisations such as the Schools Consent Project to take charge in the past couple of years. The charity, founded in 2014, leads regular workshops in schools in the UK, providing students with the legal definitions of consent and key sexual offences such as sexting and revenge porn. Founder and director Kate Parker says: “We want young people to appreciate that consent is the bedrock to any sexual interaction; it distinguishes a sexual act from a sexual crime.”

 

In March 2017, the Department of Education finally confirmed that updated relationships and sex education will be made compulsory for all schools in England as early as September 2019. It’s a step forward, but the process won’t be easy: there is currently a huge gap in the data for sexual harassment in schools, due to a lack of reporting and because this type of abuse is not recognised by the curriculum. “When it comes to policymakers, very often they want to see stats and figures, but data on gender-based violence in schools is difficult to gather”, says Lilia Guigni, CEO of GenPol, a thinktank that published a key policy paper that explicity links sex education to gender-based violence.

 

Not only do pupils need to be taught these vital lessons, but teachers and schools must also begin to become familiar with how to deal with cases of sexual harassment on their premises. Only a third (38%) of secondary school teachers in mixed-sex schools are aware of students being sent or exposed to pornography in schools and only 20% received this knowledge as part of their initial teacher training.

 

Richards never reported what happened to her to a teacher. “I didn’t tell the school, or any authority,” she says. “I didn’t know that it was even possible to take any action, to be honest. But I do regret it because I suppressed so much. It wasn’t until the last few years that I realised that it is the cause of a lot of bad emotions and anxieties.”

 

In the digital age, UK schools must begin to adapt and recognise that technology has great power to damage young people and leave a lasting impact. This begins with accepting that revenge porn exists in schools, too. For Richards, a formal process that addresses the issue frankly rather than making it a taboo, is what is needed before anything else. “I would really love to see more stories about others’ experiences because it would normalise the situation for me and give peace of mind to my 16-year-old self. I still need closure.”

 

Some names have been changed.

 

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.


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