New IJoC article up on privacy norms in sexting

An article I wrote with Tamara Shepherd was published this week in the International Journal of Communication. In our study, “Sexting in Context: Privacy Norms and Expectations,” we used surveys and focus groups to study young adults’ beliefs about privacy in sexting scenarios. We found that that a large majority of respondents thought that sharing private images was never or rarely OK. Any tolerance our respondents had for privacy violations was dependent on the type of relationship between the sender and the recipient and the method of image sharing (off-line or online).

Jian Ghomeshi and rape culture

A lot has been written about Jian Ghomeshi in the last 5 days. 4 6 8 women have stated that Ghomeshi, a Canadian radio celebrity, sexually and physically abused them.

Many have reacted by saying: finally. Finally everyone knows now what kind of person he is. This excellent article, “Do you know about Jian” explains how and why people keep this kind of open secret about abusive men.

Many BDSM practitioners have denounced Ghomeshi’s claims that he’s being persecuted simply for being kinky. When 8 women have come forward to say they’ve been abused or harassed that means we can be pretty certain that the person is a predator, not a maligned kinkster. As sexgeek explains:

Face-punching and choking to the point of unconsciousness are absolutely some people’s kinks. But even among seasoned BDSM players, these acts are widely understood to be things you must do only with the most carefully negotiated consent, with a goodly amount of education and practice, and with the knowledge that they are highly risky. Beginner BDSM this is not. … Ghomeshi’s argument that what he does is a “mild version of Fifty Shades of Grey” does not match up with his apparent practice of engaging in very high-risk activities with women he’s just beginning to date.

Quoted in the November issue of the Atlantic

I was interviewed for this month’s Atlantic cover story on sexting by Hanna Rosin, and the article mentioned my forthcoming book as well!

atlantic cover- why kids sextI’m really happy that Rosin articulates the consent framework that I advocate in my research.

The importance of consent also comes across well in the interview Rosin did for Fresh Air about the article, and Rosin accurately describes the vital problem I’ve found with many misdemeanor sexting laws that have been passed since the panic began in 2009: most of these new laws don’t distinguish between consensual sexting and deliberate acts of harm and humiliation.

In her article, Rosin also explains the problems with new misdemeanor laws very clearly:

In Florida, for example, a minor who is guilty of transmitting or distributing a nude photograph or video must pay a fine, complete community service, or attend a class on sexting. A second offense is a misdemeanor and a third is a felony. Where they’ve been passed, the new laws have helpfully taken ordinary teen sexting out of the realm of child pornography and provided prosecutors with a gentler alternative. But they have also created deeper cultural confusion, by codifying into law the idea that any kind of sexting between minors is a crime. For the most part, the laws do not concern themselves with whether a sext was voluntarily shared between two people who had been dating for a year or was sent under pressure: a sext is a sext. So as it stands now, in most states it is perfectly legal for two 16-year-olds to have sex. But if they take pictures, it’s a matter for the police.

Yet her suggestion that the prosecutorial discretion can solve the inherent problems of criminalizing sexting  ignores the fact that queer youth, low-income youth, and youth of color caught sexting will be disproportionately penalized:

The nonconsensual sharing of pictures, even among just a few people, should probably count as a criminal act, as long as there is prosecutorial discretion.

At the same time, I was also glad to see that Rosin explained how law enforcement involvement in privacy violation cases can be even more traumatizing than the original incident:

What seemed to mortify them most was having to talk about what they’d done with a “police officer outside their age group.”

… Marsha Levick, a co-founder of the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center, sees many cases where the police investigation does much more harm than the incident itself. “The rush to prosecute always baffles me,” she says. “It’s the exponential humiliation of these boys, or more often girls, in an official setting, knowing their photos will be shown to police officers and judges and probation officers. And the reality is, a lot of these officials are going to be men. That process itself is what’s traumatizing.”

Finally, I’m really pleased that Rosin discusses the sexual double standard, which is at the heart of slut-shaming and sexual harassment:

Studies on high-school kids’ general attitudes about sexting turn up what you’d expect—that is, the practice inspires a maddening, ancient, crude double standard. Researchers from the University of Michigan recently surveyed a few dozen teenagers in urban areas. Boys reported receiving sexts from girls “I know I can get it from” and said that sexting is “common only for girls with slut reputations.” But the boys also said that girls who don’t sext are “stuck up” or “prude.” The boys themselves, on the other hand, were largely immune from criticism, whether they sexted or not.

Yes means yes: 1993 and 2014

California just passed a new law (that applies to most college campuses) that defines sexual assault as a lack of affirmative consent. That means consent cannot be assumed from a person’s silence or intoxication. Thomas Millar at Yes Means Yes recently posted an extensive analysis of the law. In Canada, this same basic model has defined sexual assault in federal criminal law since the early 1990s. (It gets a lot right in theory, but in practice many prosecutors, judges, and juries still rely on racist and sexist rape myths). Around the same time, Antioch College was nationally ridiculed for mandating a policy of explicit verbal consent. In 1993 the New York Times was sympathetic to the effort but cautioned:

To people used to associating sex with romance and romance with mystery, these guidelines look stifling. Each and every time? … Adolescents will always make mistakes — sometimes serious ones. Telling them what’s unacceptable, in no uncertain terms, is fine. But legislating kisses won’t save them from themselves.

More than 20 years later, I can see some real progress in the NYT’s reaction:

[The new California law] is not radical. Its underlying message is that silence does not necessarily equal consent, and that it’s better to be certain that sex is desired than to commit assault. Sexual assault is rampant on campuses, and colleges have failed to respond adequately. “Yes means yes” won’t make these problems disappear. But the new standard is worth trying.

So, twenty years from skepticism about “legislating kisses” to “this is worth trying.” As Millar writes:

This Is Not A Revolution In Practice (But I Can See It From Here)