PEER pressure is a driving force behind sexting in secondary schools, where teenage girls send sexually explicit photographs of themselves to boys because they want to be cool.
This is the concern of a group of Phoenix P-12 Community College students, who say sexting is common.
They say teenage boys show and distribute the images for the same reason: they are pressured to do so by their peers.
The group has been meeting with a Grampians Health cyber safety expert since the beginning of the school year in an effort to raise awareness of the consequences of sexting.
One student, Diana (not her real name), said sexting never stopped with one person.
“(The image) always gets sent around,” she said.
“Someone sent a photo of someone and it ended up on Facebook. Someone screen-shot it and sent it around.
“It affected her big time. Everyone abused her, called her names.”
The students said people who participated in sexting usually did so because of peer pressure, or when they were in a relationship where “they feel like they have to, otherwise the guy won’t stay with them”.
In other instances, they were confronted with explicit material unwillingly.
“A friend of mine didn’t know who this person was (on Facebook) and he all of a sudden sent her a random photo of himself – she didn’t know what to do about it,” said Diana.
Another student, John (not his real name), said teenagers participated in sexting because they thought it was cool and “to fit in with a certain group of people”.
He said boys were more likely to distribute the images and girls more likely to send the initial photograph.
Sometimes, the images went around the school and sometimes they went to other schools.
The message the students want to send is “think before you post”.
Women’s Health Grampians webWise project worker Michelle Hunt has been working with the group and spoke at a public hearing for the Law Reform Committee Inquiry into Sexting on Monday.
In her submission to the inquiry, Ms Hunt called for an end to the gender stereotypes behind sexting, arguing it was a “representation of women as sexual objects to be consumed by men and men as consumers who seek out sexually explicit images of women”.
She said the community had to stop accepting these stereotypes – such as the idea that young men were going to be competitive about getting pictures of women into their phones.
“That’s what we were feeling when we were talking to young people – it was the peer groups encouraging each other or putting pressure on each other,” she told The Courier.
Ms Hunt said the teenagers were undertaking the same sexual exploration as every generation before them, but in a digital forum.
“Young people think when it’s done in fun it’s not sexting. They see it as flirting,” she said.
“The best thing we can do is have conversations and start talking with them about it. If we don’t talk about it they’re just going to source it from the media or other sources of information.”