A new online PSA warning from Children of Street, an organization in British Columbia dedicated to preventing the sexual exploitation of children, warns young women of the potential negative consequences of sending nude self-portraits, or naked “selfies,” to their boyfriends or crushes. In the video, a young woman flips through placards which say, “I sent a photo to someone I trusted and now, people I don’t know, know me.”
Over at Jezebel, Laura Beck points out that this video fails to put the onus on the dude who sent her photo around. I agree.
I looked on the organization’s website and there doesn’t seem to be any parallel placard video in which a young man shares his experience of sharing a photo a young woman sent him, or of having had his picture shared. I imagine that in many of these cases there is shame and regret on behalf of the guy, and hearing their stories might be valuable, too.
That said, while a public education campaign for young men would be great to put an end to the victim-blaming that is all too pervasive in our culture, the unfortunate reality is that the consequences are potentially much worse for the one who sent the naked photo vs. the one who received it. There have been many reported cases of bullying and even a few suicides attributed to the distribution of naked photos. Teenagers, both male and female, aren’t known for their impulse control. Your crush/hook-up/boyfriend/girlfriend might be really sweet and loyal, but then one night he or she has one too many and witness you laughing at someone else’s joke and then posts that picture on Instagram.
As Amanda Hess writes on Slate, a recent study shows that young men and women take naked selfies at about equal rates, but young men are more likely to forward them.
It’s in the distribution of these images that boys and girls’ behavior begins to diverge. When an explicit photograph hits their phones, the teen boys in the study were almost twice as likely as the teen girls to have forwarded it beyond its intended audience. And boys were much more likely than girls to have received one of these errant sexts from an oversharing peer.
We need to educate young women about their sexuality in a way that allows them to feel ownership over their bodies and urges, while also conveying the serious risks involved. We want them to feel empowered, but we also need them to take that power seriously. Perhaps the next PSA announcement should acknowledge the positive aspects of exploring one’s sexuality, while simultaneously showing that things can and do get out of control. And this time both genders have placards, because ultimately a culture of victim-blaming and exploitation isn’t going to make for good sex for anyone.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.