News broke this week of a website containing naked images of Australian school girls. The schools that the girls were from were named, with over 70 schools across Australia involved. Four of the schools were within a 5 minute drive from where I live, and 4 more were in a 20 minute drive. This came on the back of another scandal last week involving students in a prestigious Melbourne school distributing naked images of female students at their school.
Scores of young men uploaded the images, and reports stated that there were many cases of students requesting images of girls from particular schools or areas.
As a teacher and a parent, the whole thing is very concerning. But it also gives an indication of the broader society at large.
This scandal indicates how prevalent and wide-scale sexting in our schools has become. The website in question site proves what many people in the education world have been saying for a while: sexting is a common part of courting in the 21st century. Girls feel tremendous pressure to meet the desires of their male peers for images of their bodies and many of them cave to that pressure. They also feel this pressure within relationships, where boys demand images with threats of ending the relationship.
Connected to this is the culture among young men of sharing pornographic images. Many people are rightly asking the question: Who are these guys who are requesting, sharing and uploading these pictures? What is wrong with them?
The answer is that they are probably normal boys. Sure, they’re not our finest, but their behaviour is far more normal than most people realise. We might not like it, but we are encountering a new normal.
You see, boys have been sharing pornographic pictures on their phones for the last ten years. And this whole issue of texting has exploded in schools over the same period. It seems that in the mind of a teenage boy, it’s not a huge leap to go from sharing an image with your mates to uploading it online.
All of this is a result of a culture that celebrates pornography in a way never seen before. And while so many in our society want to say that porn use is fine among adults, for those of us working with young people in schools, the cancerous results of widespread pornography consumption are clear. This website is just the tip of the iceberg. Lurking underneath are boys sharing these kinds of images privately, and it’s happening in nearly every school in the country, not just the 70 or so on the list.
So what do we do?
Well, here’s what we can’t do. We can’t break the internet. We can’t get rid of smart devices. Parents can set some boundaries in their homes, but our technological world is here to stay.
If you’re a parent reading this, please have an awkward conversation with your children. Talk to them about their porn usage. Set boundaries. Talk to your daughters about their worth beyond their appearance and teach them about the dangers of the internet. If you’re not sure how to start, here’s a link with a wealth of resources for you that will help you think about talking to your children about porn.
If you work at a school, and especially if you are a leader in your school, please do something that goes beyond getting students in trouble. We need to go beyond treating symptoms.
Clearly our boys need some re-education. In a culture where their sex education comes mainly through pornography that is so often misogynistic, our boys need serious help. Schools need to step up and not simply address the issue of sexting, but also the pornography use that shapes such poor attitudes towards women and fuels their desire for images.
Schools are in the business of education. They can educate on porn directly in the classroom through curriculum and through pastoral or well-being programs. They can build in sexual education programs that address porn.
Schools also have the opportunity to educate indirectly, training their students to consider the messages contained in images that shape attitudes and behaviour. And this can be done in History, English, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama classrooms. We don’t need to simply leave it to PE and Religion classes.
If you’re in a school and would like some help, please get in touch. I'd love to work with your school to address this huge issue.
No amount of angry blog posts about the issue will make a dent. We need to work with our young people from the ground up, where we slowly work to change the culture that celebrates porn and derides and abuses young women. Because in this current culture, despite what the boys think, no one ends up winning.