In wake of two sets of London charges, experts say embarrassment and laws aren’t deterring ‘sexting’

Unsuspecting teens’ intimate photos shared online, a teen girl filmed during sex without her knowing — two separate investigations, three accused and police in two Southwestern Ontario cities shaking their heads.

Reason for alarm, yes.

But, despite all the lessons kids get about responsible online behaviour and criminal sanctions that can result if they don’t, experts warn it’s par for the course — even the new normal — in the sharing culture - writes lfpress.com.

In the span of less than a week, police in London and St. Thomas have laid child pornography charges against three young men in two different cases — both stemming from intimate photos and videos of teens who didn’t know they were being targeted.

The alleged victims aren’t alone.

Forty-two per cent of Canadian youth who’ve sent sexy or nude images — what experts call sexts — have had one shared without their consent, a new national survey of 800 16- to 20-year-olds found.

“There’s a significant number of sext recipients sharing sexts they’ve received. That’s unambiguously illegal under Canadian law,” said study author Matthew Johnson. “The privacy risk, the risk of getting in trouble, the risk of blowback — none of these things seemed to be major (deterrents) for the sharers.”

The research, lead by the University of Toronto and digital media literacy non-profit MediaSmarts, found 41 per cent of respondents had sent intimate photos and 30 per cent had shared a racy shot by showing it to another person, forwarding it electronically or posting it publicly.

In London, racy photos of an unsuspecting teen couple were shared with almost 800 people on Facebook, police say.

On Monday, London police arrested and charged an 18-year-old St. Thomas man accused of posting and sharing racy photos of the teen boy and girl, both under age 16, on the social media site.

The unidentified accused — who was known to the couple — logged into the accounts of one of the other young people in early September without permission and put the photos online, police say.

Last Thursday, St. Thomas police slapped a 15-year-old boy and 18-year-old man with child pornography charges after a 14-year-old girl was reportedly videotaped without her knowledge during a sex act.

In Stratford, a 22-year-old man accused of extorting women online with their own naked photos will be back in court March 13 to answer to 35 criminal charges, including several counts of criminal harassment and publishing an intimate image without consent.

But the threat of serious legal ramifications barely does anything to deter young people from sharing intimate photos without consent, Johnson said.

Ditto for in-school education programs and household rules.

“The youth in our study, about two-thirds of them were aware that sharing sexts was against the law in Canada,” said Johnson.

“But whether or not they knew, that was not connected to how likely they were to share sexts,” Johnson said.

Instead, researchers found young people with high moral disengagement — ones who blamed the victim or downplayed the damage sharing sexy photos can cause — were more likely to distribute shots without consent.

Youth with entrenched gender stereotypes, who strongly agreed men should be more interested in sex or women can’t be truly happy without a relationship, were significantly more likely to have shared a racy picture.

Johnson said this subgroup of their sample — and he believes, the youth population at large — has normalized this kind of non-consensual cyber-sharing, despite the real-world consequences.

The relatively new laws on cyberbullying and distributing photos without consent won’t be able to stamp out sharing, Johnson said, at least not overnight.

“It’s not impossible that, over time, laws might make a difference,” he said.

“But at the same time there also has to be a societal change.”

Read more news of London on our site.

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