Prevention Tuesday – Keeping Yourself Safe in Cyberspace

In Education, Prevention, Sexual Assault Awareness on April 24, 2012 at 5:00 am

What is ‘sexting’?

If you are a young adult you probably have heard of sexting. After all it is featured in songs by popular artists Ludacris and Beyonce, on television shows like Glee and The Secret Life of the American Teenager and you have probably even heard of celebrity “sexts” gone public (take Pete Wentz or Vanessa Hudgins for example). The odds are that you may even know people who do it or have done it yourself (1 in 3 young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 have done it).

If you are a parent you may be less familiar with this new buzzword used to describe the use of digital media to send sexy and often explicit messages. Sometimes these texts and pictures are shared voluntarily by young people as a way of flirting or showing affection towards their partners, but often there is some level of pressure or coercion involved. (61% of young adults who have shared a naked picture or video indicate that they felt pressured to do so by someone else!) With the popularity of social networking websites and other forms of digital media it is becoming easier and easier for these pictures and messages to go “viral”(this means a message, picture or video becomes popular through Internet sharing, typically through the use social networking websites and e-mail).

The sharing of “sexts” can have variety of serious social and emotional consequences and involved parties can even face legal consequences! It is always important to remember that once you send that text or post that picture to Facebook you no longer have any control over where that image goes or who sees it.

Here are some videos that talk a little bit more about sexting can affect your life:

Your future college and job opportunities

Your reputation

Your criminal record

What is ‘cyberbullying’?

Cyberbullying can be a variety of different things, but is usually characterized by the use of digital platforms to hurt or embarrass others (typically involves sharing negative or untrue things about another person or people). Some of the most commonly used methods of cyberbullying include writing things online that aren’t true (26%), writing things that are mean (24%) and forwarding an IM or message that was intended to stay private (20%). Images shared in “sexts” are popular material for this type of bullying (one-fifth of young people who receive a “sext” forward it and around half of those who do forward, forward to multiple people).

While cyberbullying is unique because it occurs online, unfortunately this behavior often leads to face-to-face bullying.

Here are some videos that talk a little bit about cyberbullying and how much it can hurt victims:

Permanent emotional damage


What is digital abuse?

 Digital abuse is when a dating partner (or even someone who is just a friend) constantly texts, IMs, e-mails or uses any form of digital media to harass or keep tabs on another person. Often this happens between dating partners (21% of young people think that their dating partner checks up on them too often). Digital abuse can also include demanding Facebook passwords and reading text messages without permission.

Ask yourself these questions about digital abuse:

Is it violating your boyfriend or girlfriends privacy to read their text messages?

Is it normal for your partner to text and call all of the time?

As a young adult how can I protect myself from abusive digital behaviors?

Ask yourself some of the following questions when you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable:


  1. If someone asks you to send them a picture or an explicit text, ask yourself if it was your idea. If you aren’t in the mood or don’t feel comfortable sharing this information with someone…DON’T. It’s better to be uncool for a few moments than to potentially be very embarrassed later.
  2. Where will this picture end up? It could just end up in your trusted partner’s inbox…or they might forward it to their buddies…or it could end up on Facebook. Once you send that picture, you lose all control of what happens to it and who sees it. If it isn’t something you would want your mom or dad, your teachers or your grandparents to see then you probably shouldn’t send it and you definitely shouldn’t post it online.
  3. If you receive a sext, ask yourself what was going on when this picture was taken. Maybe the person was totally into it and wanted to share the picture, but maybe they didn’t intend to share it with others or weren’t able to consent to it being shared. There really isn’t a good way of knowing whether that person would be comfortable with you sharing the picture so the best thing to do is to just delete it. Don’t save it, don’t forward it, don’t upload it to Facebook…JUST DELETE IT!


  1. How would I feel if someone said these things about me? If the words that you are saying to or about someone would make you angry, sad or hurt then they will probably have the same effect on the target of your bullying.
  2. Would I say these things to the person’s face? If you wouldn’t say these things to the target of bullying then you shouldn’t be saying them online.
  3. If you are the target of bullying ask yourself who you can confide in or talk to. You definitely aren’t the first or only person that this has happened to. If something someone posts, texts or IMs about you feels wrong then you should report to the website and talk to a trusted adult.

Digital Abuse

  1. Why does my partner need to know where I am and what I am doing all of the time? In a healthy relationship there should be trust between partners and you should feel free to spend time alone or with other people. In an emotionally unhealthy relationship, one (or sometimes both partners) tries to control the behaviors and interactions of the other partner.
  2. Does constantly receiving messages seem normal? It’s fine to check in with your friends and partners, after all communication is a huge part of any relationship. However, if you start to notice that checking in turns into keeping tabs then it is time to have a face-to-face conversation with your partner. If you notice that this is happening to a friend, then say something. They may not have noticed or they might just think you are overreacting, but either way you should let them know that you are there to support them.
  3. Do the messages I am receiving ever make me feel bad? If a friend, partner (or anyone, really) is using e-mails, IMS, texts or Facebook to say mean things about you (whether they are talking about how you look or what you are wearing, who you are hanging out with) then that is emotional abuse. If this is happening to you then you should talk to someone you trust about it to figure out what the next step is.

If you need help or just want to learn a bit more you should check out MTV’s “A THIN LINE” project here.

 As a parent how can I talk to my kids about abusive digital behaviors?

Talk to your kids regularly about what they should do to keep themselves safe online. Discuss what is appropriate and inappropriate to share on social networking websites and make sure that they feel comfortable talking to you about these issues. It is also important to talk to your children about cruel behaviors and how they can best respect their peers. Middle school and high school can be difficult times in a young person’s life, but by talking to the children that you care about you can make sure that they remain is safe and also that they don’t harm others.  If you have a tough time starting these conversations you can use any of the videos posted above as a starting point for conversation. I also recommend the MTV Documentary “Sexting in America” which is available for free online.

In general the MTV project “A THIN LINE” is a really great resource for young adults, as well as parents and educators. Parents and educators can find the portion of the website specifically addressing them here.

 The source for all of the statistics included in this post was the MTV-AP 2011 Digital Abuse Study


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