As noted in the past, Albury's sensible, coherent and well-research work is credible and worthy of attention.
The new study [PDF] presents
the findings of a qualitative study of young people’s understandings of, and responses to, current Australian laws, media and educational resources that address sexting. While there are many definitions of sexting, for the purposes of this report we are referring to the production and distribution of naked or semi-naked photographs via mobile phones and social media.
The project involved a review of both international local and academic research as well as popular media addressing sexting, and a review of educational resources for young people. Three focus groups were conducted with young people aged 16 and 17 in 2012, and a working paper based on those findings was then distributed to adult stakeholders in the fields of law enforcement, youth and children’s legal support, education, criminology, media and communications, youth work, youth health care, counseling and youth health promotion. This report therefore draws on both the focus group discussions, and a workshop consultation with the adult stakeholder group.The authors indicate that -
- While focus group participants were familiar with the practice of sending naked or semi-naked pictures, the term sexting was understood as an adult or media-generated concept that did not adequately reflect young people’s everyday practices and experiences of creating and sharing digital images.
- Young people observed that gendered double-standards were applied to discussions of sexting, and digital self-representation in general. For example one group of young women were particularly offended that their self-portraits or selfies were viewed by both peers and adults as ‘provocative’ while young men’s naked or semi-naked pictures were understood as ‘jokes’.
- Sample media campaigns and public education materials viewed by focus groups were rejected by some participants for failing to acknowledge young women’s capacity for consensual production and exchange of images. These participants also felt that current sexting education fails to emphasise young people’s responsibility to not share images without consent.
The recommendations are structured two major categories - 1) strategies and 2) new approaches to understanding sexting. The authors indicate that
- Both young people and adult stakeholders agreed that current legal frameworks relating to sexting (particularly those that con$ate sexting with child pornography) are not widely understood by either young people or adults, and that this lack of education and awareness places young people at risk of unreasonable criminal charges.
- 1.1 We recommend that educators, policy makers and legislators consider context-specific and age-appropriate legal/educational approaches for young people in different age-groups. Educators and legislators should particularly address the specific needs of those under 18, yet over the age of consent (i.e. young people aged 16-17).
- 1.2 We recommend the inclusion of young people on committees, review boards and other policymaking groups, so that their experiences can inform future frameworks for understanding and responding to sexting. We recommend the inclusion of young people on committees, review boards and other policymaking groups, so that their experiences can inform future frameworks for understanding and responding to sexting.
- 1.3 We recommend that both educational and legal responses to sexting reflect ‘harm reduction’ principles rather than promoting abstinence from the production and exchange of digital photos between peers or from using social media.
- 1.4 We recommend that sexting education be more focused on fostering ethical, respectful practices between intimate partners and within friendship networks.
- 1.5 We recommend legislative reform to clarify the application of existing laws relating to child pornography and child exploitation material (as they are applied to sexting), and to clarify the parameters of lawful conduct by and between consenting children and young people.
- 1.6 We recommend that educational strategies that address sexting, including information resources for adults, seek to problematise and challenge gendered double-standards in relation to concepts such as ‘provocativeness’, ‘self-confidence’, ‘responsibility’, ‘consequences’ and ‘reputation’.
- 1.7 We recommend that educational strategies that address sexting, including information resources for adults, acknowledge young people’s rights and responsibilities with regard to self-representation and sexual expression.
- 1.8 We recommend that educational strategies that address sexting, including information resources for adults, distinguish between non-consensual production and distribution of sexting images and consensual image sharing.
- 1.9 These educational strategies should emphasise ethical frameworks, and recognise that sexting can be an expression of intimacy, rather than shaming young people for sexting. Framing sexual expression only as a risk does little to alleviate anxieties or feelings of shame that young people may experience in relation to their sexualities.