Canadian youth sharing others’ sexts at alarming rate: study

Parents and teachers need evidence-based strategies to confront culture of non-consensual sharing

OTTAWA, February 6, 2018 – Forty-two percent of Canadian youth who’ve sent sexy or nude images have had one shared without their consent, according to new research from the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy, in partnership with TELUS WISE.

The national survey of 800 young people aged 16 to 20, conducted last August, found that 41 percent of youth had sent one or more sexts, with boys and girls sending sexts at roughly the same rate. Meanwhile 30 percent of youth had shared a sext, whether by showing it to others in person, forwarding it electronically, or posting it to a public forum. Boys were more likely than girls to have shared a sext.

“Our research supports the need for adults to differentiate between sending sexts and sharing sexts non-consensually,” says Faye Mishna, Dean and Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “Education and programs must take different approaches to each.”

Perhaps most worrying for parents and teachers is that current strategies to stop non-consensual sharing of sexts – including awareness of criminal laws, household rules and education programs in schools – appear to have little to no impact.

“An abstinence approach to sexting, which tends to focus on girls, just isn’t effective at preventing non-consensual sharing,” says Matthew Johnson, MediaSmarts’ Director of Education and the lead author of the study. “Our research shows that it’s a small subset of boys who are the most likely to share sexts, and that’s where we need to focus our educational efforts in order to stamp out this illegal and harmful behaviour.”

The study found three main factors that influence non-consensual sharing behaviour:

  • Gender stereotypes: Youth who agreed with statements such as “Men should be more interested than women in sex” and “A woman cannot be truly happy unless she is in a relationship” were significantly more likely to have shared a sext.
  • Moral disengagement: Agreeing with statements that justified sharing sexts, such as “Sharing sexts is so common, nobody cares about it” and “If a boy shares a sext he received with one friend and that friend shares it, then it isn’t the first boy’s fault”, was strongly correlated with sharing sexts.
  • A culture of sharing: Together, gender stereotypes and moral disengagement contribute to a culture of sharing among roughly a third of youth who see sharing sexts non-consensually as normal, acceptable and even positive.

“As adults and parents, we can see the harm that can come from a culture of sharing, and this research is an eye-opener for all of us. Non-consensual sharing of sexts is a privacy issue and a form of cyberbullying that can have serious consequences for our youth,” said Nimtaz Kanji, Director, TELUS WISE. “With this research and through the TELUS WISE program, we can now create new evidence-based tools for parents, teachers and youth in partnership with MediaSmarts to help provide all Canadian families with the resources they need to help confront and prevent this behaviour moving forward.”

TELUS WISE is a free educational program focusing on Internet and smartphone safety and security offering Canadians of all ages’ interactive and informative workshops and resources. Topics include parenting in a digital society, online privacy, online reputation management, social media safety, identity theft protection and more.

Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about the moral pitfalls of sharing sexts non-consensually. MediaSmarts has tip sheets and guides on its website to help parents navigate these difficult conversations.

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About MediaSmarts

MediaSmarts is a Canadian not-for-profit centre for digital and media literacy. Its vision is that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens. MediaSmarts offers hundreds of digital and media literacy resources for teachers, parents and librarians on its website.

About the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

Renowned internationally for excellence in education, scholarship and research, the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto is distinguished by its emphasis on the integration of research and practice in both the classroom and practicum education. Graduates of the faculty are equipped with the knowledge, skills and dedication to make a critical contribution, on a local and global scale, to the future of human well-being.

Contact: Liz Berman, Marketing and Communications Manager, MediaSmarts
613-224-7721, ext. 231, lberman@mediasmarts.ca