Pornographic ring highlights the unacceptable acceptance of online misogyny

in Press Releases

Opinion - Wednesday 17 August, 2016

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta:

Let’s make no mistake. This week’s reports about a national website showing pornographic pictures of girls at 70 Australian schools is an extreme form of abuse, misogyny and bullying.

While some will argue that these girls knowingly passed on nude pictures of themselves, the act of young men sharing these photos for amusement is gender-based violence and the cruellest of privacy breaches.

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation, which runs the National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB), considers these actions a form of sexual abuse that perhaps does not carry with it the consequences it should.

Through the eSmart Schools framework, the Foundation works with more than 2,300 schools around Australia to educate and support teachers, parents and students on how to handle and address this kind of behaviour. The eSmart Digital Licence was also introduced last year to specifically help students learn how to be smarter and make safer choices online.

Our eSmart experts often meet male students who accept the sharing of nude pictures – against the victim’s will – as normalised behaviour.

A 2014 La Trobe University study also found that sexting and sending explicit photos via smartphone was now a common part of teenage sexual behaviour and courtship.

It suggested that 54 per cent of students reported receiving a sexually explicit text message and 26 per cent reported sending a sexually explicit photo of themselves.

The percentages increased for sexually active students, with 84 per cent saying they had received a sexually explicit text and 72 per cent saying they had sent one.

There is a clear belief among certain groups of young people that objectifying young women in this way is acceptable.

It is not, it is illegal and needs to be addressed before more instances occur.

US Professor Dorothy Espelage addressed the Foundation’s NCAB Conference last month explaining that both schools and families were responsible for developing a child’s values and a sense of right and wrong.

Professor Espelage emphasised social and emotional learning – a systematic development of skills that help young people handle life challenges, make better decisions, and thrive in both their learning and their social environments. Social and emotional competencies have been shown to reduce sexual assaults among young people.

A holistic approach to creating respectful relationships seems the only effective way to get the message through to our youth, because despite the efforts of many positive influences in a child’s life, there may always be peers who say that objectification and misogyny are OK.

They are not.

Today, the Foundation called for an Australian Federal Police investigation into this pornographic operation.

While the origins and identities of the perpetrators are still unclear, this is a national issue that should be handled by a national authority.

For those girls affected, please know there are organisations ready to provide support and training; these include the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation and respective education departments.

The Victorian Education Department has already developed its Respectful Relations program, which focuses on gender-based violence and what is sexual harassment. The program also discusses the impact of community-based messaging on the objectification and denigration of girls and women.

It is crucial that we as a society ensure that we continue to educate and explain that the action of sharing and swapping nude pictures of young girls – and young boys for that matter – is in no way acceptable by any person; male or female.

Education about appropriate behaviours, while stamping out inappropriate and misogynistic actions, is the only way to ensure this does not become a normalised behaviour.

The internet is a wonderful tool that enables us to learn, communicate and be entertained. It should not be a tool of abuse and victimisation.

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