Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sextbullying, when Cyberbullying Meets Sexting

Sextbullying (cyberbullying, using sexting images as a weapon): When young people target their peers with digital sexual attacks, they do it for one of two reasons – classic sexual exploitation (either through producing, viewing or sharing sexual images or through actual sexual acts) or to damage the reputation of someone they want to hurt. When they do it digitally to hurt someone, rather than for their own sexual titillation, it is a form of “cyberbullying”.

They may take a picture of another minor while in the locker room or while changing at a slumber party. They can hold a cell phone, digital camera of video camera over the top of a dressing room divider to shoot their victim undressed. They can shoot “up skirt” images by holding the video camera in a bag aimed upwards while standing near their victim. They can secretly (or openly) record their own sexual acts with this victim. They can point their webcams in a dorm room, after leaving to “give their roommate some privacy.” Or they can get hold of sexual or nude sexts that the victim took voluntarily and spread them to everyone in the offline or online community.

While the major thrust is destroying the reputation of their victim or getting them into trouble with parents or school authorities, the added risk is that these same materials make their way into the clutches of traditional sexual predators. They may also qualify as “child pornography” and everyone along the chain of production, distribution and possession can face serious felony charges and end up as registered sex offenders (in the US).

Whether the image was taken consensually by the minor and voluntarily shared or posted or taken secretly and used to blackmail them, the images are illegal and carry serious penalties for use or misuse, including for moderation staff and the network itself, if not handled carefully within the safe harbor laws of the applicable jurisdiction. 

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