Sexting and cyber bullying victims are at an extremely high risk of psychological trauma, warns a US bullying expert. She also suggests that in severe cases, a victim may require mental health support, including ongoing suicide assessment.
University of Arizona Professor Sheri Bauman will present her findings at this year’s biennial National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Conference in Melbourne on July 28 and 29. More than one third of Australian teenagers, aged between 13 and 15, have sent sexts, while almost two-thirds have admitted to receiving a sext, according to a 2015 study published by the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Prof Bauman said sexting victims – those who voluntarily provide images that are then misappropriated – can be at extremely high risk levels of psychological trauma.
“We know that people who are victimised in this way often suffer from clinical depression, high levels of anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder depending on the situation,” Prof Bauman said. “It’s very important that we identify the most appropriate way to help victims so they don’t feel as though their life is over.”
Prof Bauman said many young people view sexting as a normal part of their sexual experimentation and development. But she cautioned them to ensure the act was their decision and nobody else’s.
“It seems to be quite acceptable behaviour to young people because ‘everybody’s doing it’,” Prof Bauman said. “But it’s important to consider what might happen to those images if the relationship does break down.”
She said if the worst happened, and the images were circulated, it was important for victims to consult with people who could provide guidance, particularly if parents aren’t involved.
“Saying things like, ‘it’s not the end of the world’ immediately disqualifies you as someone who can help because you’re demeaning their experience,” Prof Bauman said. “There are plenty of clever public service announcements stressing the dangers associated with sexting.
“It is these messages, which are so strong, that make young people assume their lives are over. We have to be very careful that we don’t let them feel as though there’s no point getting help because it’s a helpless situation.”
Prof Bauman said, in some cases, there was a need for victims to have ongoing suicide assessments and to seek treatment for mental health issues. She said it is also important for the victim’s family and friends to provide support.
“Develop strategies to stop victims from revisiting sites and becoming re-traumatised. Rally around them to show they have support. Help them gain perspective. Reframe it as a ‘mistake’ – everyone makes mistakes,” she said.
More than 50 key issues facing decision makers on bullying will come under the spotlight at the NCAB Conference at the Crown Conference Centre on July 28 and 29. The conference, an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, will be co-hosted by NCAB Chair the Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC and Dr Michael Carr-Gregg.
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta said the rise in issues, such as sexting, have provided academics, parents and teachers with new and confronting challenges during the past decade.
“Many parents are deeply concerned about this issue and it’s important that they receive the best possible advice,” Ms Podesta said. “This in turn will help both parents and educators provide the right support to young people dealing these issues.
"We need to break the cycle of violence in society by addressing where it can start - childhood bullying.”
For further information on presenters and NCAB Conference agenda go to www.ncab.org.au
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