school

'One year had sex bets.' 6 teachers on their experiences with sexting at school.

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“I’ve worked at schools that had sex bets. Students would see who could sleep with the most students, and share photos to prove it.”

When I asked a group of high-school teachers about their experiences with sexting, this was just one of the anecdotes that emerged.

There were further examples of inappropriate photos being circulated, cyberbullying, students recording fights and sharing footage online, photos being taken in bathrooms without consent, and teachers being filmed without their knowledge.

While high schools have always been a minefield, today’s battleground looks markedly different to what it did a decade ago.

Those responsible for educating our young people are faced not only with the challenges of what can occur in the classroom and in the playground, but also what goes on in their pockets.

Inside the fabric of their uniforms sits a portal into an entire world no single person can control. A social network that’s exponential. A cycle of communication that doesn’t end. A camera with the ability to capture a moment and make it immortal.

The new frontier for teachers and parents is navigating how the ubiquitous aspects of teenage life – sex, bullying, identity, relationships, gender dynamics – now play out using a different tool.

It’s undoubtedly changed the role of teachers, asking them to both understand the impact of bad behaviour online, and find effective ways to resolve it. So how does sexting impact schools in 2019? And how are teachers responding?

Maria*

Year 7 teacher in an independent, co-ed school

Maria teaches 11 and 12 year olds, and tells Mamamia that even at that age, “students are sending nude pictures of themselves and others”.

“We’ve had girls share photos with friends, as well as with boys,” she says. “It’s not always that the image gets shown to a large group of people – sometimes a student will come to us and tell us that they know there’s an image that’s been sent.”

When it comes to the taking and sharing of explicit photos among young people, Maria says “they need to know the seriousness of laws around sexting”.

They seem to just not be aware, she says, of the implications their actions can have.

Emily*

Year 7-12 teacher in a public, co-ed school

Emily says in her experience, sexting often goes hand in hand with “terrible statements made as forms of bullying”.

“It blows up,” she says. It rarely affects just the students involved, and she feels like she needs to navigate it on a case-by-case basis.

She adds that in the past, parents haven’t always been helpful. “We’ve had parents openly saying very inappropriate things via social media when we’re trying to sort out sensitive school issues,” she says. It means there’s an uncomfortable tension between who’s responsible – the school or the parents.

Troy*

Year 7-12 teacher in a public, co-ed school

Troy has had to deal with “non-consensual sharing of nude images resulting in police involvement”, which he says is a far cry from what he thought he’d be doing when he went into teaching.

“It’s a whole new world,” he says. “We’re learning at the same time as kids are engaging in the behaviour.”

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He recalls one case where a girl’s nude photos were shared without her consent, and it took hours to get a male student to admit responsibility.

Troy says staff at his school don’t hesitate to get police involved, and that they’re required to by law.

“There are kids who have had to learn the hard way,” he says.

Amelia*

Year 9 and Year 11 teacher in a Catholic, single-sex girls school

At Amelia’s school, sexting has found its way into the school grounds.

“We’ve had girls taking photos in their underwear in a bathroom and posting on Instagram as some sort of a challenge with students from other schools,” she says.

“Then they get used for purposes other than what was intended.”

It’s an ongoing process of education, she says, for both students and teachers. And they’re still struggling to get on the same page.

Sam*

Year 7-12 teacher in a Catholic, co-ed school

Sam worked in a school that had “sex bets – involving students seeing who could sleep with the most students, and taking photos to prove it”.

“Technology is moving too fast,” Sam says, which makes it hard for teachers to know what to do when it comes to issues like sexting.

“We keep bringing police officers and community workers into school to talk about safety and their technological footprint,” he says. “But until they personally know someone that’s affected, they don’t care.”

“We do have to keep talking about it though, on their level. Being real and honest. Support them when they stuff up. These are teenagers, their brain has not fully developed, cause and consequence are not quite lined up. We just need to be consistent in our message and walk the walk.”

Laura*

Year 9-11 teacher in a public, single-sex girls school

Laura has noticed that certain forms of social media – including Snapchat and Instagram – are making the sharing of explicit images more and more common.

She says she doesn’t feel like teachers “even know the half of it”.

“A handful of incidences get taken to staff, and we have clear protocol about how to deal with it,” she says. “But I think there’s a lot going on we don’t know about.”

“It scares me that these students are so young, and that an image of them can exist on the internet forever,” she says. “That’s what the people who share them also don’t get. That it’s not just them sharing them – you can’t control where it goes from there.”

It’s something she doesn’t think young people fully understand yet, and she’s not sure they will for some time.

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

SBS has launched an online educational toolkit to help parents, teachers and carers talk to kids about issues around cyber-bullying and online behaviour, in conjunction with their new four-part series The Hunting. For more information, visit www.sbs.com.au/learn/the-hunting.

SBS The Hunting

Asher Keddie and Richard Roxburgh explore sex, trust and consent in new Australian drama The Hunting, from August 1st on SBS and SBS On Demand. Watch the trailer here.

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