Some 24 percent of British teenagers have had nude images published online without their consent, according to a new study from the Ditch the Label anti-bullying group, which asked hundreds of young people about their experiences with cyber-bullying in the smartphone age.
The range of reactions among these people whose images were shared ran the expected gambit: 26 percent reported suicidal thoughts, 12 percent tried to kill themselves, and 5 percent left school or college. Some had positive reactions — a few reported feeling more attractive or confident after their images were shared — but the vast majority of them were distraught by the invasion of privacy.
The non-consensual publication of nude images has had similar effects in the United States. A 15-year-old girl from California committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted at a party and images taken during that assault were shared. Another from Steubenville, Ohio was harassed after images of her alleged rape were shared on a variety of social services, like Instagram.
But the images aren’t always taken without their subjects’ consent. Some are posted as what’s often labeled “revenge porn,” after the subject sent them deliberately to their significant other and later ended the relationship. The result of such privacy invasion is quite similar: the Huffington Post collected a series of (obviously unverified) stories about revenge porn’s ramifications posted to Reddit, and many of them aren’t “empowering” at all.
Some states have started criminalizing revenge porn. Ditch the Label recommends that the British government do the same, or at least make the laws concerning the non-consensual publication of someone’s nude photos more clear to young people, who are so devastatingly hurt when those images get passed around. It also recommends that parents, schools, and universities educate young people on how to responsibly sext or how to handle these issues.
The problems aren’t confined to one country or another. They affect many of the people who use the Internet, and it’s clear that more needs to be done to protect young people from their former partners, hackers, and themselves. It’s also clear that this can’t all be blamed on teens deciding to take nude photographs; as the cases mentioned above show, the publication of nude images can lead to other assault. It’s not up to survivors to figure this out — it’s on society as a whole.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]