Parents teach their children to look both ways to safely cross roadways, but it’s equally important to teach them to navigate Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media.
Craig Krieger, Crown prosecutor, Techology and Internet Crimes, spoke at the April 25 Internet and Technology Safety for Children and Youth event during the Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness.
“Youth run blindly across the intersections of the Internet; most make it safely across, some do not,” said Krieger.
Parents can access multiple resources.
One of those resources is The Sexual Exploitation Working Group (SEWG). The Edmonton-based leadership group, comprised of 11 representatives from various groups, collaborates to create awareness of sexual exploitation and its causes and impacts.
Another resource is The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE), one of the partner agencies of SEWG. Nikki Bernier is the director of community engagement and a trained sexual violence intervention specialist on SACE’s public education team.
“Technology-assisted sexual violence is the new frontier that needs specific attention,” said Bernier. While some may wish to ban smartphones and social media, technology alone is not the issue. These mediums are not going away and can be used appropriately and inappropriately. “We have to teach youth how to use technology in a consensual, non-abusive way,” said Bernier.
Teaching, Bernier explained, starts with educating youth and even adults that images, once released, may be permanent. Sexually explicit photos, often shared consensually (sexting) in a trusting relationship, may be maliciously distributed after a breakup.
“It is inaccurate to think this is different than what we have experienced before. It is still sexual violence. Victim blaming hasn’t changed. Community attitudes towards sexual assault and technologically assisted sexual violence are similar. It is all sexual violence,” said Bernier.
During normal adolescent development, body image acceptance is tough. Ryan Myers, associate from Respect Education for the Canadian Red Cross said, “Appreciating one’s sexuality, preparing for sexual relationships, how to deal with intense urges, understanding gender identity, sexual orientation is no longer a binary concept.”
All these developmental paths compound one another and affect decision-making abilities. When most youth are in trouble, they seek peers for advice and support.
Bernier added, “Technology and the teen brain are incompatible. Giving your child a mobile device is not just a phone. It is a powerful tool.”
Producing, sharing, and distributing images involve risk. SACE offers presentations, listens to youth, addresses their concerns, and engages in age-appropriate conversations.
That includes conversations about sexting. Any sexually explicit image of youth under 18 is considered child pornography. A young person may send an image of themselves to someone they trust. Bernier said, “Do not tell youth they can be charged with child porn. This scare tactic can backfire badly, possibly resulting in suicides, isolation, cutting, depression, bullying and blackmail.”
Meyers said, “As of 2012, one quarter of youth have sent sexual images to feel sexy, some due to pressure. Sexting is going to happen.”
As adults, it is important to shift away from victim blaming messages. Youth may be seeking to enhance intimate relationships. Meyers discourages sexting and instead focuses on respecting boundaries. “Don’t share images of others without permission. If anyone shares or pressures you to share images of youth online, talk to someone.”
Most importantly, make sure the children or youth in your life know any assault is not their fault. Self-blame is a long-lasting legacy of sexual assault.
INTERNET SAFETY RESOURCES
FOR PARENTS & YOUTH
SACE: Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE): 780.423.4121
Contact SACE to ask them for their “Youth, Technology and Sexual Violence Resources” sheet with 15 helpful links.
CEASE: Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation: 780.471.6137
The Family Centre: 780.423.2831
Feature image: Kate Quinn, executive director of CEASE and chair of SEWG, speaks at the event. | Rusti Lehay
IMG 2: Craig Krieger, Crown prosecutor, speaks about youth safety and the Internet on April 25. | Rusti Lehay
IMG 3: The Internet and Technology Safety for Children and Youth event covered some sobering facts. | Rusti Lehay
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