Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A Ban On Sexting Won\\\'t Stop Teenagers Sharing Explicit Images

A Ban On Sexting Won't Stop Teenagers Sharing Explicit Images

The Debrief: Why Jeremy Hunt is wrong in calling for social media companies to implement a ban on sexting amongst the under-18s.

Last week, in an attempt to restrict under 18s from watching porn, the Government were proposing banning certain sex acts from pornography as part of the Digital Economy Bill. This week they, or to be more specific our Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, want to ban sexting for the under 18s.

People are, perhaps quite rightly, a bit bewildered:

Hunt was giving evidence to the House of Commons Health Committee on suicide prevention when he said that under-18s should be prevented from texting sexually explicitly images by social media companies.

He said:

‘I just ask myself the simple question as to why it is that you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18, if that’s a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract. Because there is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent it being transmitted.’

How did this go down? Well, The Guardian reports that in response to him calling for ‘social media companies’ to ‘step up to the plate and show us how they can be the solution for the issues of mental ill health amongst teenagers’ the Health Committee’s members called on Hunt, as Secretary of State for Health, to step up himself and put more resources into suicide prevention.

As with banning certain sex acts from pornography this proposal does, somewhat, feel like the Government is missing the point. If you ban certain kinds of pornography you don’t deal with the root of the problem. You don’t stop young women experiencing sexual harassment, abuse or rape. You don’t stop young men seeking explicit material. Not to mention the fact that you don’t take LGBT consumers of pornography into account at all.

Banning sexting won’t stop people being shamed or bullied. When I was at school a female friend of mine performed a sex act which was caught on a disposable camera…the images were passed around our entire year within a week of it happening.

Teenagers haven’t changed, they’re doing what they’ve always done. Technology has changed, making it easier and more common for explicit images to be shared. What hasn’t caught up is the sex education we provide young people with in our schools. Let’s not forget that this is a Government who has done very little to sort out sex and relationships education and bring it up to date with the technology that young people are currently using.

When I was a teenager chat rooms and forums were the thing, people you’d never met would want to have cybersex with you communicated via acronyms (so sexy). Was this ever mentioned in a PSHE lesson? No, it was not. 

As things stand today, sexting does not feature in the National Curriculum. Incidentally, online pornography doesn’t feature either.

The legal system is catching up with reality. Last year revenge porn was made a legal offence, meaning that we’re making sure that people who do share naked, semi naked or explicit images of themselves during a relationship, however, brief, are protected should that relationship sour.

Now, there’s no doubt that sexting can be problematic. There’s no question that revenge porn is on the rise and that young people need to be protected. But, is a ban on sexting for under 18s, when the age of consent in this country is 16, really the solution? Surely, there’s also no doubt that young people need to be educated as well.

The Women’s Equality Party are currently calling on the Government to make a decision about compulsory sex and relationship education. This follows the recent publication of their report into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.

Sophie Walker, Women’s Equality Party leader, said:

‘The Women and Equalities Committee report couldn’t have made clearer the need for compulsory SRE as a means of tackling endemic levels of harassment and violence in our schools. A third of girls aged 16-18 have experienced ‘unwanted touching’ at school, and almost two thirds of girls aged between 13 to 21 have faced some form of sexual harassment. The Government is letting girls and young women down.”’

Responding to the Women’s Equality Party, the Government said that it was keeping compulsory sex and relationships education ‘actively under review’.

If Jeremy Hunt is keen for a ban on sexting, why is he not also lobbying the Government for comprehensive, up to date and compulsory sex and relationships education in all of our schools?

Calling on social media companies to ban sexting won’t stop under-18s sharing explicitly images with and of one another. Nor will it stop bullying, sexual harassment and sexual violence.

You might also be interested in:
This Is Why We Need To Rethink How We Approach Sexting And Naked Selfies

What If Our Favourite Soap Stars Taught Sex Education?

Sex Lessons We Learned From Eurotrash

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Tags: Sex Ed, Politics Meets Pop Culture, Politics, Sexting