By Viv Steele, Sex Correspondent
Earlier this month, British Columbia-based charity Children of the Street Society released a public service announcement aimed at convincing teens not to send dirty pictures to each other via text message. The group, which aims to prevent childhood and adolescent sexual exploitation, is trying to build on the viral momentum of the famed Amanda Todd YouTube video from last year: their PSA features a brunette sitting on a bed, holding cards on which the group’s key message plays out.
That message is: “I sent a photo to someone I trusted and now, thousands of people I don’t know know me.”
While the girl in the video reveals her message, the camera pans out to show her image replicated on multiple cell phone screens in the background. The tagline, “There’s no such thing as just one photo,” follows the video, adding “Protect yourself from sexual exploitation. Be safe online.” The ad is set to run online, as well as on posters and bus stops. The ad was reportedly endorsed by Amanda Todd’s family and created pro bono by marketing firm Cossette Vancouver.
It’s hard to argue with the intent behind such a campaign, with words like “endorsed” and “pro bono.” Of course we, as a society, want to keep kids safe. And it makes some kind of sense to clearly target the ad at girls, the ones who are ostensibly taking and sending all these boob pics with their smart phones, right? Right?
Well, I think it’s kind of wrong. For one, youth aren’t stupid. They understand the technology involved in mobile photography probably more than their parents do—they know that a digital image, once created, can be replicated. More seriously, it simplifies a complicated issue by placing the blame and responsibility firmly in the hands of the potential victim.
Toronto Standard reporter Hallae Khosravi states in an op-ed about the PSA that “It is not these pictures in themselves that ruin lives and can lead to potentially fatal consequences, it’s how we all react to them,” which is an important point to consider. Amanda Todd didn’t commit suicide because she sent naked pictures; she fell into a deep depression because of the resulting shame, bullying, and repeated victimization, events from which no adult was able to protect her.
Khosravi goes on to say that teens have always been on the cutting edge of experimenting with sex, which is something that I can agree with based solely on my own history. I think that when the Amanda Todd story broke, a lot of girls who came of age in the Internet generation were saying on the inside, “Thank God it wasn’t me, because it could have been.” Just like haters are gonna hate, teens are gonna keep sending racy pictures as long as apps like Snapchat keep flooding the smartphone market. What Khosravi says, and what I agree with, is that we as a society need to focus on the culture of shame that surrounds a leaked sext.
Also helpful to remember: letting the young women in your life know that they are loved and valued for who they are. Let young men know to respect everyone, including women. And then go out there and let everyone know that the type of victim-blaming that this PSA touches on is not appreciated. Youth should be brought up to have confidence in themselves; they should be given adequate sex education that accepts their status as sexually-experimental creatures, including an education on how to behave online. What they shouldn’t be is shamed, belittled, and told that one mistake like a sext picture can ruin their whole lives.