Is YOUR child sending sex texts at schoolIt’s terrifyingly common – as Sarah found when her 13-year-old was bullied into texting a topless photo of herself. Here they reveal the devastating consequences…
21:43 GMT, 18 July 2012
As she sat down to her homework in her bedroom, Sophie heard the familiar chime of her mobile phone. Among the usual messages from friends, there was yet another text from a 13-year-old boy in her class. It was the tenth from him that day, each one making the same lewd and disturbing demand: ‘Sophie, send me a topless picture. You know you want to. All I want is to see you naked.’
Shockingly, such requests were not unusual for Sophie, 13, a naturally pretty girl with delicate features and shoulder-length blonde hair. So far, she had always ignored them, or said a very firm ‘no’.
But Sophie, from Ipswich, Suffolk, admits she found this particular boy’s persistence flattering — and at the back of her mind she knew it was the more attractive girls who were asked by boys to send them ‘special’ pictures. So, baby-faced Sophie peeled off her top, sat on her bed and pointed the phone at her budding chest.
Trauma: Sophie, with her mother Sarah, became a laughing stock at school after a boy circulated a topless picture she had sent him
Without a thought for the consequences, she sent the topless picture to the boy. She quickly followed it up with a text urging the boy not to pass it on. Too late. Within minutes, the picture was circulated to the rest of the boys in her class.
/07/18/article-2175591-141CABC0000005DC-764_306x443.jpg” width=”306″ height=”443″ alt=”Think before you text: Sending sex texts is now rife but teens don't always consider the consequences (posed by model)” class=”blkBorder” />
Think before you text: Sending sex texts is now rife but teens don't always consider the consequences (posed by model)
‘Sophie is quite self-conscious about her body so she seemed such an unlikely person to be stripping off. I couldn’t imagine she’d ever have the confidence to pose nude. Also, Sophie had always been the most innocent and naive of girls.
‘Like all her friends, Sophie had been given her first phone at 11 when she went to secondary school so she could let me know she was safe. It never occurred to me she could use it for something like this.’
When Sophie came home that day, Sarah nervously confronted her.
‘I asked her to hand the phone over — which she was very reluctant to do. When I saw the photo I felt physically sick.’
Even more disturbing though, was how easily and calmly Sophie appeared to shrug off her reasons for doing it. ‘Now it was out, she didn’t seem particularly embarrassed by the picture itself,’ Sarah says.
‘It was more the fact the boy had passed it on — and that the girls in her school were now being horrible because of the attention she was getting. She even admitted that sending flirty messages and pictures made girls more popular — and the prettier ones tend to get the most requests. I couldn’t believe it.
‘She said she hadn’t told me because she feared I’d get involved, complain to the school and it would cause her more trouble.’
As she listened, Sarah was heartbroken at hearing how much childhood has changed.
‘In my day, if you liked a boy, you’d send letters. Now this is the way teens show they like each other — but at what cost’
The incident happened at the start of half-term. When Sophie returned to school after that week off, the full impact of what she had done became clear.
Sarah says: ‘We took away her phone during our holiday. Afterwards, I felt she’d learnt her lesson so gave it back. But when she went back to school and turned it back on, there were dozens of boys contacting her whom she’d never heard of.
‘They were telling her she was amazing and lovely and asking to meet her. Still, worryingly, she was flattered. It was the girls who turned against Sophie, telling her friends not to talk to her.’
The school spoke to the boy and his parents — and addressed the issue in assembly. But still Sophie was ostracised by the girls in her year. The situation became so desperate that Sarah thought about removing Sophie from the school.
'He had sent her a full frontal picture
of himself and she had sent him a topless picture back. He told her he
would delete her picture. But once again he circulated it to his mates'
She switched Sophie’s phone for a basic model which couldn’t take pictures because she felt taking her phone away completely was not the answer.
Sarah says: ‘The problem is that today’s teenagers are socially excluded if they don’t have a phone.
‘Sophie had already lost a lot of friends. /07/18/article-2175591-140830F1000005DC-924_306x477.jpg” width=”306″ height=”477″ alt=”Singer Tulisa has taken legal action against an ex-boyfriend over a sex tape of the couple which appeared on the internet – but it hasn't damaged her career” class=”blkBorder” />
Role model: Singer Tulisa has taken legal action against an ex-boyfriend over a sex tape of the couple which appeared on the internet – but it hasn't damaged her career
‘Although she’d betrayed my trust, I wasn’t angry. I understood what she was going through.’
Since the incidents, Sophie has had school counselling to help her cope with the social exclusion and make her realise she is worth much more than her looks alone.
She has never confronted either of the boys who distributed her pictures, simply saying: ‘There’s no point.’
Finally, the negative attention moved on when another girl at her school did the same thing — and the focus diverted to her.
With the benefit of hindsight, Sarah
says she has learnt a hard lesson — but one she wishes other parents
would heed. ‘Looking back, I wish I’d realised how susceptible young
girls are to the dangers of sexting. I never imagined I’d have to worry
about things like this so early.
‘Yet I hear other parents say they’d
never check their children’s phones because it’s an invasion of privacy.
But that’s what parents have to do nowadays to keep them safe. At this
age teenagers just don’t know how to handle these pressures.’
Indeed, a recent NSPCC study found
that a third of under-18s have been affected by sexting — and that girls
as young as 11 are asked to send intimate photos to boys they know.
In some cases, girls have to write a
name in marker pen on parts of their body to show they are the property
of a certain boy. They are also facing a barrage of messages demanding
intercourse or oral sex.
Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility at Plymouth University, says: ‘The worrying thing is young people are starting to think this is completely normal.
‘It’s an accepted form of sexism and sexual assault. It’s also a real concern that girls feel flattered to be asked. If they don’t get these requests, girls think they’re unattractive. But even if girls want to be asked, the boys are still engaging in predatory behaviour.
11 per cent of teenagers aged 13 to 16 have texted nude photographs of themselves
‘Boys ask for these pictures as trophies, and so they can tick another girl off the list. The boys have all the power.’
Pornography has contributed to the growth in explicit sexting, says Professor Phippen — because boys expect girls to behave in the same way they see women behaving online, and girls also believe they should live up to those images.
Celebrity culture also encourages young girls to believe there are no negative consequences, he adds. ‘They see their idols like Rihanna or Tulisa sexting or appearing in sex videos one week, and having a number one single the next, as if nothing happened.’
Sarah and Sophie may be the exception for having the courage to go public with their story, but there are many more cases out there.
In May, Peter Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, told MPs that sexting is a growing problem.
But he added that only ‘a tiny proportion of incidents where it had gone wrong’ are reported to police.
The problem is so prevalent he believes children as young as five should be taught in school about the risks of using mobile phones to take explicit images.
For Sophie, that advice has come too late. She has grown up in a world where boys have little respect for girls — and where girls have little respect for themselves.
Perhaps because Sophie has never known a time when trading body parts has not been part of courtship, she doesn’t believe boys will ever stop.
She says: ‘Boys think they have the right to do this. They treat girls like dirt. It’s just the way life is. Adults can’t change that.’
But for this teenager, and for so many of her contemporaries, the price has been high.
‘I felt like a child when this happened,’ says Sophie. ‘But by sending those pictures, I’ve lost part of my childhood I can never get back.’