Doing it for the likes
Concerns are being raised about youth creating and sharing explicit content of themselves online to gain popularity. School administrators say the practice has become even more common since COVID-19 where children have more access to devices.
Online child and revenge porn a growing concern
• Stakeholders worry that underage sexual content on the internet put children at greater risk for predators
• Parents warned that they could be held accountable for actions of kids, urged to take control
26 Mar 2023/Christopher Thomas Sunday Gleaner Writer
INCREASED INTERNET access by students because of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unfortunate byproduct – an uptick in underage sexual content being shared on social media and online platforms.
This has raised fresh concerns for stakeholders, who worry that this could worsen children’s vulnerability to being sexually manipulated by online predators, and are calling for action to curtail the growing trend.
School administrators are among those voicing their concerns, as they grapple with a number of students being subjected to or participating in the sharing of explicit material in the online space.
At Anchovy High School in St James, Principal Lavern Stewart said students making pornographic videos of themselves, which often end up on the internet, is a major challenge, which has “quadrupled” since the pandemic.
“We have had students who made videos of themselves, and some have posted some of these online, including within the past year. We believe that it has quadrupled, since everybody now has a device in their hand, which gives greater exposure to online content,”
Stewart told The Sunday Gleaner.
“While the students may have had a phone before, because it wasn’t something for them to explore many areas of the internet, it wasn’t so pronounced or popular. But since we started the online learning, they are having the conversation with themselves as to where to find this or that. The problem became a whole lot bigger in the last two years, so we are just now seeing the ripple effects of that exposure.”
A St Catherine-based guidance counsellor, who requested anonymity, noted that many instances of students’ explicit content being shared online are due to acts of revenge porn, where nude photos or videos are posted on online platforms without the subject’s knowledge or consent.
“The students are always on TikTok, and they might do underwear imagery or dance in skimpy clothing on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. But what we have actually discovered is that students are not really doing it deliberately to gain popularity. What you find happening is that often when a student’s explicit photos or videos are shared online, it is when it is done to expose people or as some form of revenge,” the counsellor explained.
Last month Facebook and Instagram announced that it will step up efforts to help prevent the spread of explicit content involving teens. Parent company Meta revealed that both social media platforms were founding members of Take It Down – an initiative that helps young people and their parents remove intimate photos posted online.
The concerns raised coincide with statistical data provided by the Corporate Communications Unit, indicating an increase in the number of child pornography cases recorded in 2022 compared to 2021. Under the Child Care and Protection Act and the Child Pornography (Prevention) Act, a child is defined as a person who is under the age of 18 years old.
According to the police data, there were 25 reports of breaches of the Child Pornography (Prevention) Act in 2022, compared to 22 such cases in 2021.
In a breakdown of the figures for the respective two years, while there were four reports of child pornography distribution in 2022 compared to six reports in 2021, there were 11 reports of child pornography production in 2022, an increase over the six reported the previous year.
Each of the two years saw the Jamaica Constabulary Force receiving two reports of inciting production of child pornography, and eight cases of possession of child pornography.
Additionally, there were 10 cases of malicious communication involving sexual i mages, or revenge porn, which were reported in 2022, five less than those reported the previous year.
In 2021, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions called for lawmakers to make revenge porn a standalone offence under the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015, on the grounds that it was difficult to convict persons who maliciously revealed private photos on WhatsApp that caused distress to the victim.
PARENTS CAN BE HELD RESPONSIBLE
Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifford Chambers, head of the Area One Police Division in western Jamaica, warned that parents need to proactively scrutinise their children’s internet usage, as this will protect both parent and child. He explained that parents can be held legally culpable for whatever criminal activities their children get involved with, including those committed online.
“A lot of youngsters are encouraged by deceptive adults whose minds are so warped that they expect these things [illicit behaviour], and the ease with which a child can access social media and communicate without any level of parental control and guidance is an issue,” Chambers told The Sunday Gleaner.
“We encourage parents to pay attention to your kids, pay attention to their phones, ensure that once in every 24 hours you have a discussion with the kids to see how amenable they are to have you take their phone to go through it, and once there is this big restriction, it means there is something wrong.”
He continued, “Remember, if it is a child, anything that the child finds himself or herself in on the criminal side, the parents can and shall be held responsible for it as well. In these instances, where you have these dialogues with these children, you yourself can be held responsible if there is anything that the child is doing that is an offence or a crime.”
Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison likewise believes that parents need to be more aware of what their children are posting online, especially because of the potential for predators to take advantage of and exploit young people in the virtual space.
“For the adults in these young people’s lives, you must be very familiar with what they are doing online, and do not let it be a space that is taboo, or that you never venture into because they deserve privacy. Yes, privacy is to be respected, but given the exploitation of social media and online platforms by people with mal-intent, we need to be present there with our children and adolescents to ensure that there is nothing untoward that is happening that we cannot interrupt,” Gordon Harrison told The Sunday Gleaner.
“For the teenagers, we know it is exciting and it is a wide open world out there, but at this stage of your lives there are people who have mal-intentions towards teenagers. For our boys, they are a prime target for criminal activities and gang membership and also to exploit them to do things that are not appropriate. And for our girls, it continues to be that they are prime targets for sexual predators,” Gordon Harrison stressed.
DO IT FOR THE ‘LIKES’
Clinical psychologist Georgia Rose noted that some young people, as part of efforts to validate themselves by getting ‘likes’ in the online space, will stoop to sharing porn of themselves.
“For some, value is linked to popularity on social media spaces, and this equates to the quantity of ‘likes’ that one gets. There is a shift in perception and views, as some believe that the only way to present themselves in a valuable manner is to sexualise self,” said Rose.
“This demands that as parents, guardians, stakeholders and the wider society, we must empower our children to see all the value in themselves, and to identify themselves in a beautiful and desirable manner.”
She added, “Parents should intentionally create an atmosphere where sex can be discussed, where we can tell our kids that sex is a good, healthy and natural thing. We can also share that it is special and not to be reduced to pornography; and those conversations should be age-appropriate.”
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