Sext-shaming won’t stop revenge porn — and it’s sexist

Sext-shaming won’t stop revenge porn — and it’s sexist

In an announcement made earlier this month, the Dutch police have called on adolescents to “stop sexting completely” in an attempt to tackle the growing issue of revenge porn. As we are now well into the #MeToo movement, this shows how institutions are still struggling to address issues of sexual consent and assault.

However, telling young people to stop sexting doesn’t sound like a solution at all. It sounds like sext-shaming, and a lazy attempt at preventing the nonconsensual spread of nude images.

There’s something very wrong with the way we talk to young people, especially girls, about sexting. Even though they have the best intentions, in the eyes of parents, police, and teachers the only solution to prevent leaked sext messages or nudes is seems to be to discourage young people — girls in particular — from sending them altogether.

The sexism of sexting

However, there’s a big flaw with the Police’s advice to stop sexting completely, namely that it doesn’t include the big picture. One thing it misses is the lack of discussion around the pressure girls receive to send explicit images and messages in the first place. Research has proven boys are four times more likely to pressure girls to send them naked pictures than girls are to pressure boys to do so.

A recent study highlighted by The New York Times also shines an unforgiving light on the pressures young girls face when sexting. It analyzed 500 girls aged 12 to 18 years-old about their negative experiences with sexting

Many girls described facing intense pressure while others shared how they would exchange naked images in return of promises of affection and discretion. In some cases, the intense pressure would turn into “persistent requests, anger displays, harassment and threats.”

Our culture has resorted to shaming girls for sending explicit images. We’ve ignored the foundation of the issue by rarely addressing the teenagers who ask for sexual images in the first place. Sexting is not bad, when done consensually. The real issue is that society punishes young women disproportionately to young men.

Stephanie Alys, co-founder of MysteryVibe, a company invents personalized pleasure products told TNW over email: “Simply telling people — specifically young women — to cease sending photos is not only an inadequate solution, but it blames the victim.”

The blame should lie with the one that breaks the law, not the victim of the criminal’s actions. Sharing private images without consent is the real problem, that’s why initiatives to solve said problems should target the people who do that. But misplacing blame isn’t the only issue, there’s also just the feasibility of ‘banning’ people anything.

“More broadly, I don’t believe that telling young people not to sext at all is the answer,” explains Alys. “Education surrounding sexual etiquette and digital consent is sorely needed to re-shape societal perceptions around these types of actions.”

Criminalizing sexting

There’s nothing wrong with sending solicited naked images, but sending them does not equal consent to distribution. It’s a crime to leak them without the knowledge of the owner — that’s an undisputed fact — but why does it feel like we are criminalizing the girls who take the pictures?

For Alys, it’s clear that ‘bans’ on sexting is a completely wrong approach to the issue: “Not only should [girls] not be blamed for the hurtful actions of another, but the telling them to abstain from sexting entirely also purports that sexuality is bad, shameful, and always results in negative experiences.”

However, the Dutch police views it differently and says its guidelines are meant to help young people. In a radio interview Yet van Mastrigt, moral expert of the National Police, said “We are now seeing a growing number of young people who are very unhappy with sexting.”

The Dutch police’s intention is admirable, but many have argued that the premise Mastrigt cites simply isn’t true. Since just about every teenager owns a smartphone with a camera, it’s inevitable that sexting plays a part in many young relationships. Not to mention, sexting is a healthy and fun way to express sexuality, provided it’s respectful and there’s consent from both participants.

Sexting is also somewhat inevitable in a time when a lot of adolescents are exploring and discovering sex online, which could be a result of a lack of sex education in their own schools.

Telling teenagers to stop sending nudes might make a dent, but it won’t solve the issue. If parents, teachers, and authorities (like the police) focused more on the other side of the issue — sharing private images without consent.

Social norms would form which would teach boys that sex is not a measure of their own masculinity, and that they are not owed it. In turn, girls would face less victim-shaming and ultimately, this would create a healthier digital environment for young people.

And the way I see it, that’s the only sustainable solution. Bans have a way of turning into their antithesis and they cement the system’s view of where the blame lies. I acknowledge that stopping ‘the first step’ of the problem might be a tempting solution, but the easy way isn’t necessarily the right way.

We have to educate everyone that receiving personal images comes with great responsibility — and sharing those images without consent is a crime. That’s the only way forward.

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