We need to stop blaming girls when sexts go viral

Stop judging and attacking girls for sending sexts. Instead teach boys that sharing those images is a gross betrayal of trust, immature and a form of sexual assault says Gráinne McGuinness

UCD newspaper the College Tribune published a disturbing article early this month, suggesting a closed Facebook group with up to 200 members had been set up by male students for the purpose of exchanging explicit pictures and ratings of their female classmates.

This story provoked a strong reaction, particularly online. Once again young women’s sexuality was being used as a stick to beat them with. Label them, objectify them, rate them, demean them and as a result, put them in their place. That place being to exist for the sole sexual pleasure of men.

On Friday the college published the results of their investigation into the allegations, which found no evidence such a group existed.

Great, right?

Well no, unfortunately. The college’s investigation team couldn’t find proof of this particular alleged page, but according to Women’s Aid, incidents like this happen all the time.

We need to stop blaming girls when sexts go viral

They are hearing from more and more women saying they have been the victims of this behaviour.

Anyone who thinks this isn’t happening is naive. It is going on, around the world and in Ireland, and it needs to be addressed.

But for many people, any solution involves advising women to change to avoid becoming the target. Once again girls and women are being told they need to take responsibility for the behaviour of boys and men.

A national newspaper ran an article this week, with a headline questioning why intelligent, educated young women took explicit photos of themselves.

An older generation, who came of age in a time before smartphones, find it baffling that young people take these pictures. But this is a generation who have used Snapchat and Instagram to document their lives from a young age. Pictures and selfies are integral to how they communicate, it shouldn’t be surprising when this extends to how they flirt and interact with the opposite sex.

Older people can clearly see the risks — to us it is simple, don’t take explicit photos, and don’t send them.

But what we’re losing sight of in this conversation is that a young woman taking a picture of herself, or allowing one to be taken, isn’t doing anything wrong. We might not understand it, but she is harming no one.

The wrong is done where the images are shared without the consent of the subjects of the picture and it is those doing the sharing who should be held responsible. They are the ones who need to be educated on how to behave.

Imagine the claustrophobia and the horror of knowing that a photo or video of you is being shared, and not knowing how far it has gone. Of having to walk into school or college or work wondering who has and hasn’t seen it. The guy sitting beside you who smiles as you walk past, is he just being friendly or remembering something that was shared with him the night before. The group giggling in the corner, are they looking at you? Imagine the suffocating paranoia, how it would eat away at you, affect your life, and your trust in other people.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence had nude pictures of her stolen from a phone and shared online and she described it as a “sex crime, a sexual violation”.

That was how she felt despite being a world-famous star, used to scrutiny and focus on her looks and her figure. How must it feel as an ordinary young girl, to know you are being subject to that kind of scrutiny from men you see every day of the week?.

We need to stop blaming girls when sexts go viral

IMPORTANTLY, Lawrence refused to be painted as being in anyway to blame for what happened. “I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for,” she said in an interview.

Lawrence was in a long-distance relationship and the pictures were intended to be seen by her boyfriend and him alone.

When an ex-boyfriend of singer Tulisa Contostavlos released a sex tape involving them both, she also refused to accept the narrative that said she should be ashamed and apologetic.

Instead she released a video of her own, saying that it was her ex who should be castigated.

“I’ve done nothing wrong whatsoever,” she said “As you can imagine, I’m devastated, heartbroken.

“But I don’t feel that I should be the one taking the heat for it. This is something that he took upon himself to put online.”

Theirs is the attitude that needs to become the norm. Boys and men who share pictures and video without permission need to feel the full weight of public accountability.

They are the ones who should feel ashamed, the ones that we should be shaking our heads at and letting them know they need to cop on and change their behaviour.

Naked pictures and videos being shared without consent is a disgusting violation.

The ones doing the sharing need to feel that disgust, not the victims.


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