The conversation we need to have: Taking nude selfies is too much of a risk.

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A girl walks into a police station to report a crime. A naked image of her has been posted on a website that shares very private images of women and girls  without her consent. She is distraught.

She is 20 years old and she took the photo to send to someone four years ago when she was still a teenager.

“Who did you send the photo to?” asked the middle-aged male police officer at the front desk disinterestedly.

“I can’t remember,” she says, on the verge of tears. “It was four years ago.”

The police officer smirks. “Do you send those kinds of photos to lots of people?” he sneers.

She is devastated. Even more devastated than when she walked in to report a horrid crime against her.

She leaves the police station feeling helpless, vulnerable, exploited and betrayed.

teenage domestic violence teen girl
“Do you send those kinds of photos to lots of people?” (Image: iStock)

This actually happened this week. I suspect variations of this story happen in police stations across Australia every day.

I heard this woman call into Triple J’s Hack program and tell her story. I shuddered.

My heart went out to her. I want to tell her that she'll be OK and this will pass because she will and it will  and she has nothing to be ashamed of because she is the victim here - but I'm sure right now she wouldn't believe me.

I’m not in the life stage where naked selfies are an issue for me personally but of course they are because I have children.

Any parent who is not poring over the coverage of the appalling story of the Australian website sharing these images so they can understand what’s happened and then talk about it with their kids is not doing their job.

Not only is it naïve to believe that social media education is not part of parenting in 2016, it’s utterly negligent.

As negligent as not teaching your kids about skin cancer and smoking and nutrition and road safety.

LISTEN: Mia discusses how 'that Tinder girl', Olivia Melville, is a cautionary tale about what women should post online. (Post continues...)

Navigating the online world is no longer just about being online. Making a mistake in the digital realm now has real world consequences for all of us. And as we’ve seen this week, those consequences can be utterly devastating and irreversible.

So here’s what I’m going to tell all my kids about nude photos.

  1. NEVER take a nude or partially nude photo of yourself. Even if you don’t send it to anyone. Having it on your phone is still risky. Phones can be lost. Or borrowed for a prank when you go to the bathroom. Photos can also be automatically uploaded to the cloud and copied onto other devices without you realising it. Photos can be stolen while devices are being repaired.
  1. NEVER send anyone a nude or partially nude photo. Even if it’s someone you love or who loves you. Even if it’s a friend. Even if you think it’s a positive or empowering form of self-expression – find another way to express and empower yourself.
  1. If anyone ever sends you a nude photo of themself or someone else, delete it immediately. You could lose your phone and the photo could fall into the hands of anyone. Some of the photos on these sites have been stolen from phones or computers by repairmen.
  1. Taking a nude photo and sending it to someone is like getting in the car with a drunk driver. It’s an enormous risk and you can never ever be sure of the consequences.
  1. Let me be very, very, very clear: if someone does have a nude photo published online without their permission, it’s not their fault. It’s a shocking, grossly unfair, disgusting, unforgivable thing that happened to them, they are the victim in this situation and they deserve nothing but our sympathy and support.
  1. The only way to make sure a nude photo of you doesn’t appear online is to not take nude photos and don’t let anyone ever take a nude photo of you. Not even as a joke or a dare. Never ever under any circumstances.
  1. Sending a nude photo of yourself to someone is like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Now try to put it back in. Once your photo is on someone else’s phone or computer, you can never get it back. Even with the best intentions in the world, that person cannot guarantee what will happen to your photo.

 

Sending a nude photo of yourself to someone is like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. (Image: iStock)

This conversation is a crucial one to have with kids and teenagers. Girls and boys.  If you child is old enough to have access to a digital device – that means the family iPad or your old phone they’re using as an iPod -  you MUST have this discussion with them.

Kids are now taking photos of their genitals years before there are any sexual connotations to doing so. Kids have always been curious. Taking photos on their devices is, for many, simply an extension of that doctors-and-nurses curiosity.

For teenagers, the landscape is different. I work with many millennial women who are incensed whenever this topic comes up and they will no doubt be incensed by what I’m writing now.

They passionately believe it’s their right to take photos of their bodies in whatever way they chose and share them in whatever way they wish.

They’re not wrong. It is their right. And I will fight for them to have that right.

But rights don’t exist in a vacuum.

And the right to take and send nude selfies comes with enormous risks and devastating consequences.

We happen to live in a vastly imperfect world inhabited by some horrible individuals who see no reason to respect the autonomy, privacy or dignity of other people – particularly women. These individuals will always exist.

We must fight to change the attitudes that cause this and that starts with our boys. We must teach them to respect women and girls and to behave with decency and kindness.

 We must teach them to respect women and girls and to behave with decency and kindness. (Image: iStock)

We must teach law enforcement officers to react appropriately when a distressed and vulnerable woman comes to make a complaint, instead of treating her with disdain or sleazy amusement.

We must always remember who the victims of these crimes are and we must always support them.

We must work to change legislation so the grubs who post photos of women and girls without their permission are treated like the criminals they are. We must ensure they face consequences.

We must change attitudes.

We must shame and charge the disgusting men who are targeting women and girls and sharing photos of them.

We must do all those things.

But this will take time. And these changes - or the pace of them -  are not in our control. I am not prepared to suggest women and girls sit around passively waiting for attitudes and laws to evolve.

This evolution may take a generation and meanwhile, more and more women are finding themselves feeling desperate and distressed after having their photos shared without their consent.

So at the same time as we work towards all of those changes, we must stop taking nude photos of ourselves because it’s the only way to ensure they won’t end up on a website like this one.

This is NOT victim blaming. I simply refuse to have it categorised like that because it’s a deliberate misrepresentation of what I’m saying.

Discussions about risk are not the same as blaming victims for crimes committed against them.

When we advocate for changes in behaviour to avoid negative outcomes – for example the Slip Slop Slap campaigns to avoid skin cancer, we are not blaming those who have already been diagnosed.

We are simply empowering women and girls to take steps to avoid something nobody wants.

 We are simply empowering women and girls to take steps to avoid something nobody wants. (Image: iStock)

We all have to make decisions every day to curb behaviour to reduce our risk of negative consequences. Sunbaking. Smoking. Taking drugs. Eating fast food for every meal. Driving drunk. Crossing the road at the lights. Keeping within the speed limit. Stopping at red lights. Having pap tests and mammograms. Brushing our teeth. Wearing seatbelts. Wearing helmets.

“But why aren’t we focussing on the behaviour of the men who are sharing these photos instead of the women and girls who are their victims? Why do we have to change our behaviour?”

I hear this a lot from young women. And my answer is this.

I am a proactive feminist as well as a reactive one.

I will fight to change the laws around revenge porn and helping to change the attitudes like the ones of that arsehole policeman who shamed that poor woman who tried to report a crime. That’s the reactive part.

But the proactive part of my feminism is looking at what changes I – and the women and girls in my life – can make in our own lives to reduce the risk of something devastating happening.

The two things are not mutually exclusive. It's deliberately disingenuous to suggest they are. And frankly, I’m not prepared to suggest to my kids or to any woman or girl – that she relies on men changing their behaviour. That she puts her trust in the behaviour of others to protect her privacy.

You can hope that the drunk person won’t crash the car but ultimately, that’s their call. The only thing you can control is whether you climb into the passenger seat.

There is no such thing as a safe nude selfie. The only way to make sure a nude photo of you doesn’t appear online is to not take any.

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