A sexting PSA that doesn’t victim-blame

Most PSAs about sexting tell girls “just don’t sext.” Yet we know that abstinence-only is ineffective, and that this approach blames victims instead of addressing the real problem.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection recently posted a remarkable video aimed at teens about sexting and privacy violations. It is one of the few PSAs I’ve seen that blame privacy violators rather than victims:

What’s unique about this PSA is that it does not shame the girl for sexting in the first place. Instead, it blames the blame for wrong-doing on the person who shared her image without consent. The girl says, “I trusted him,” which highlights that he broke that trust.

In Canada, teens are better protected from prosecution for child pornography, as long as they sext consensually and within a private, intimate relationship. However, teens cannot consent to the distribution of their images outside the privacy of that relationship. I advocate that the US should adopt a similar reform to child pornography laws.

The video ends with the message: “it’s your body/ it’s your image/ TAKE BACK CONTROL.” This is something I’ve also never seen in a sexting PSA–the idea that girls, in particular, are entitled to ownership over their sexual images. Indeed, that is a key argument of my book, that we should look at sexting as media production and thus grant those who produce sexual images of themselves ownership rights. The point is to respect teens (especially girls’) sexual autonomy in order to better protect them if they are victimized by a privacy violation.

Bravo to the CCCP! Now, as other researchers have also argued, their next task might be to stop referring to consensual sexting as “self/peer exploitation” elsewhere on their website.

CEOP to parents: Don’t panic about sexting

CEOP’s new sexting PSAs seems like a step in the right direction. They focus on telling parents not to panic about sexting, and to instead try to listen to their kids and understand why they do it. The videos make a good comparison when the narrator (an adult) remembers how her parents disliked her outfits as a teen and suggests that sexting is similar–a way for teens to “feel good about themselves,” “push boundaries,” and “experiment.” I think this may be the first PSA that offers the crucial message that sexting is not wrong and deviant; teens often do it simply for pleasure and that it’s not something to worry about in and of itself. These videos also include the important point that forwarding a private photo without permission is a serious violation.