Seven out of 10 Australian girls aged between 15 and 19 believe that receiving unwanted and uninvited sexually explicit content online is common behaviour, according to a report published on Thursday.
‘Don’t send me that pic’, published by Plan International Australia and Our Watch, details the perception of Australian teenage girls about cyberbullying, the pressure to take and share sexually explicit photographs and receiving unwanted images of a sexual nature.
Fifty-one percent of girls surveyed for the report believe that there is pressure to take sexual photos of themselves and share them online, according to Susanne Legena, deputy chief executive officer of Plan International Australia.
“We need to be clear that it is never ok to pressure people to provide unwanted or unsolicited images or to make people feel that they have to be sexy and provide you with sexual imagery,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.
“That kind of feeling to do something you don’t feel comfortable about is not OK in any context.
“This is alarming, outright cyberbullying, and dangerous as it can lead to low self-esteem and depression among victims.”
The report also found that, despite being unwanted, almost 60 percent of recipients believe girls receive unwanted sexual photos, messages and videos.
“This form of abuse is reaching girls inside their homes and bedrooms,” Legena said.
“[Even] using Snapchat, their perception is that these images are not permanent -- they don’t understand how cyberspace operates. I do think they [teenagers] are normalising sexual behaviour that they are getting from pop culture and pornography.”
Responses from some of the girls surveyed were also included in the report, calling for a crack-down on accessing violent pornography online.
“This violent pornography should be illegal to make or view in Australia as we clearly have a problem with violence and boys a watching a lot of pornography which can be very violent,” one of the responses from an unidentified 18-year-old female reads.
“This is influencing men’s attitude towards women and what they think is acceptable. Violent pornography is infiltrating Australian relationships.”
Legena believes that healthy conversations between parents and their children, as well as better education in schools centred on respectful relationships, are the key to combating online harassment.
“People are learning about what is a normal sexual relationship from watching pornography,” she said.
“Most young people are trying to work out what a healthy relationship is and what it looks like. They don’t understand that idea that somehow behaviour in online space is different to offline space.
“Let’s equip our young people through our schooling and conversations in our society to actually understand that healthy and respectful relationships is what they deserve.”
Mary Barry, CEO of Our Watch, an organisation established to end violence against women and children, agrees with Legena on the important role of schools in preventing online bullying and harassment.
“Schools play an important role in the safety and wellbeing of students,” she said.
“Evidence suggests the best way for schools to address and prevent all forms of bullying -- including cyber-bullying and harassment -- is through a systematic whole school approach which not only provides in-class education, but addresses the school culture, policies and procedures, and promotes gender equality within the staffing body.”
Legena also stressed that the internet and digital media are here to stay and that the solution to the problem of cyber-bullying and harassment doesn’t involve a blanket internet ban for teenagers.
“You can’t tackle it by prohibiting access to digital media. It’s like saying don’t go outside because you might get raped” Legena said.
“Equip kids with the tools on what to do when they see this behaviour occurring, I don’t think banning them from social media is the way to combat this.
“Young people are telling us they want more information and discussion. They want to be equipped with the tools to have the kind of positive relationships that teenagers should be having.”