Ballarat school the first in Australia to introduce ‘sexting’ course

Loreto College is the first school in Australia to put their students through a new course about the dangers of image-based bullying.

Image based bullying, when intimate or sexual/nude photos and videos are shared online without consent to humiliate or shame someone, is an increasing problem.

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation and Supre Foundation this week launched its ‘Share This! Image Based Bullying. So Not OK.’ campaign which aims to raise awareness of the issues and legalities around sending nude photos, and to encourage girls to support each other and report imaged based bullying.

“Conversations with young people around consent and respectful relationships are vital. We know the cost  of bullying to the individual and to families. Image based bullying is not only damaging, humiliating and shaming, it’s also illegal,” said Alannah & Madeline Foundation chief Lesley Podesta.

Loreto’s year eight students were part of the campaign’s first workshop in April after deputy principal (wellbeing) Pat O’Shea met one of the presenters at a workshop last year.

“The main theme to what they were presenting was nudes – the habits of Australian girls who seem happy to send them off pretty easily,” Mr O’Shea said.

“It was an obvious thing for us to get on board with because it’s such a topical issue … and part of our overall teachings on cyber issues.”

Loreto College deputy principal (wellbeing) Pat O’Shea.

Loreto College deputy principal (wellbeing) Pat O’Shea.

While keen to deter young women from sending nudes, the campaign also has a strong focus on providing support for those who have suffered the humiliation of having their photos shared without consent.

Students were presented with various scenarios in which they could be asked for such a picture, and worked through strategies they could use to say no and the consequences of sending them.

Students also pledged to look after themselves, and their friends.

“Nearly 80 per cent of people who have been victim of image based abuse don’t report it. It’s time to turn that around. We can’t stamp it out but we want people to be able to speak up,” Ms Podesta said.

About a third of those also had their names shared along with the image distributed, without their consent.

Speaking to parents, teachers or other trusted adults, or contacting the Office of eSafety who can order take-down notices and take other action are options for those who have been wronged.

“If it happens, we want people to feel supported and to be able to get on with their life and dignity. Let’s respect girls, not treat them badly when someone has done the wrong thing by them,” Ms Podesta said.

Nearly 80 per cent of people who have been victim of image based abuse don’t report it. It’s time to turn that around.

Alannah & Madeline Foundation chief Lesley Podesta

She said the problem of image based bullying was bigger than many adults realised.

“It is happening more and more often. We know about 15 per cent of girls aged 15 to 17 experience this in some way – that’s one in six girls who will tell you someone has misused an image of them.

“Sometimes they share an image with someone they trust, and what happens is that we see trust is not always reciprocated.”

Mr O’Shea said it was important for schools to step up and educate students about online perils.

“Every year we’ve got to reinvent new ways of getting the cyber safety message through. It’s a weird world in which kids as young as primary school have full internet access in their hands.”