Teen Girls Feel Bombarded By Sexting Requests. Here's How To Fight Back.

“Preparing for that starts before the moment in time that they’re asked to send it."

recent study from Northwestern University found many teens feel "overwhelmed, confused, tired," and "bombarded" when asked to send nude or semi-nude photos of their bodies, a practice that has only gained popularity over the past several years. 

According to the study, which analyzed 462 stories shared by teenage girls on an online, anonymous platform called AThinLine.org, young women typically face multiple, often conflicting, pressures to both send and refrain from sending sexual images. "Pressures to send photographs came from a desire to gain relational benefits as well as from direct requests from young men in the form of assurances of love and trustworthiness, persistent requests, anger displays, harassment, and threats," the study noted.

Given these pressures, the study also pointed out, young women report experiencing confusion and feeling as though they have insufficient tools to address the challenges they face. And DoSomething.org reported nearly 40 percent of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, meaning that this experience could be widespread.

Seeing as sexting is still a relatively new practice, there isn't a wealth of information on how not to succumb to pressure from others, especially when harassment and threats are involved, but Julie Cordua, the CEO of Thorn, gave A Plus some pointers on how to empower girls and young women so they don't feel as though they need to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Thorn — an organization dedicated to protecting vulnerable children and others by combating predatory behavior relating to technology — launched a Stop Sextortion campaign last year to increase awareness about sextortion, destigmatize the issue, and encourage individuals to reach out for help and support their friends.

"Preparing for that starts before the moment in time that they're asked to send it," Cordua said when asked how we could help girls say "no" when they are asked to send revealing photos. "Often kids will get in that situation and they'll be unfamiliar with it, and so they don't know how to handle it. The whole point of the Stop Sextortion campaign for us was to get kids talking to kids about these types of situations before they happen, and if possible opening up lines of dialogue between parents and children or educators and caregivers and children. [We want] kids to be able to talk about this very real possibility so that they are armed with something to do when and if it happens."

Before kids can talk about situations like this, however, it's crucial that they have solid support systems in place so they feel safe and comfortable discussing difficult issues. 

"Kids feel very alone when this happens. They don't feel like there's anyone they can talk to, and it's really important they have that support network before the situation happens," Cordua explained. With a support network in place, parents, caregivers, or teachers then need to have a crucial conversation with that child about the dangers of the digital age.

"I would say the first conversation should happen when [the child] is first given a connected device, and those conversations should continue to happen as they grow up and experience different parts of their life," Cordua told A Plus. "And it should happen with boys just as much as girls."

Cordua's point about having said conversations with girls and boys is a crucial one. Though the onus is typically on girls and women when it comes to issues of sexual misconduct or impropriety, the Northwestern study pointed out teen boys play a pivotal role in the pressures teen girls face. According to the study, most of the young women were responding to requests from young men, not initiating a desire to send nude photos themselves.

"We focus so much on empowering girls in this situation, but the reality is that we have to have a conversation with our young boys and men as well about appropriate behavior and respect," Cordua explained. "We as parents, and caregivers, and peers should be having this dialogue with boys about appropriate behavior, not just online, but also in terms of respect for all individuals."

And after said conversations are had, there are additional resources in place for boys and girls who need guidance when dealing with difficult situations regarding sexuality and digital devices. Through the Stop Sextortion campaign, Thorn partnered with Crisis Text Line, which helps people navigate tricky online situations they might not be familiar with, and could assist young girls in effectively declining requests to send nude photos, especially if threats are involved.

"They're now briefed on this type of issue, and they can help. The whole point of Crisis Text Line is to help de-escalate a situation and help a child find someone they can talk to and come up with a plan for handling what they've encountered," Cordua said, adding you can text "Thorn" to 741741 to speak with a Crisis Text Line counselor.

Cover image via Shutterstock / sergey causelove.

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