Have you covered your bases?

“First base is when you meet someone, second base is when you send a nude image and third base is when you kiss them.”

This is how teenagers are viewing the progression of relationships according to eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant. In an eye-opening new report released in September 2019 (the Report), the eSafety Commissioner revealed that since it started accepting reports around 18 months ago, it has received 1,400 reports of image based abuse. In particular, sharing sexual images is a normalised aspect of dating for children and young people.

The new report demonstrates the importance of considering technology when creating a child safe culture. It is a strong message to schools and other organisations that work with children that they must cover all their bases when ensuring the safety of children, including the electronic bases.

Key findings from the eSafety Commissioner's Report

The Report focused on the attitudes and motivations of individuals who engage in image-based abuse. It noted that there were generally five types of image based abuse (IBA):

  1. Relationship-based IBA;
  2. Sharing images where the victim is identifiable;
  3. Sharing unsolicited images where the victim is unidentifiable (e.g. on dating apps);
  4. IBA related to child exploitation; and
  5. Taking images of strangers such as ‘upskirting’.

Relevantly for organisations that work with children, sharing images where the victim is identifiable is particularly prevalent amongst young people. This is often done by males as a form of social status. The sexualised image is often shared with the perpetrator consensually but then distributed further without consent.

Furthermore, organisations that work with children should also be aware of the fourth typology relating to child exploitation. Like all forms of child abuse, this is typically done as an opportunistic form of asserting power and dominance. Organisations will need to ensure they have proper procedures in place to prevent this type of abuse.

Unfortunately, the Report also found that IBA is occurring at increased rates. It was found that 1 in 10 Australians have committed IBA and sadly, due to lack of education and poor understanding of the impact of their actions, perpetrators often show little remorse.

Prevalence amongst young people

IBA is defined by the eSafety Commissioner as when intimate or sexual photos or videos are shared online without consent. It is also commonly called ‘revenge porn’, although this can be misleading as revenge is not always the motive. IBA should also not be confused with sexting which refers to the sharing of intimate or sexual images, photos or videos and is often done consensually.

The rates of IBA are rising rapidly, with 21% of people who have experienced IBA stating that it occurred in the last year. 15% of all individuals who have experienced IBA are aged 15 - 17. The reason rates are higher amongst young people is considered due increased rates of sharing of initiate images and videos.

Surprisingly, amongst young people, the most common situation of IBA is where a friend shares an intimate image (29%). This is followed by ex-partner at 13%. Again, this demonstrates that intimate image sharing amongst young people is often due to social factors.

Child safety concerns for organisations

It can be tempting for organisations that work with children to think that IBA and sexting have nothing to do with the organisation as it occurs in the children’s own time. However, we know that an organisation’s duty of care is broad and we are seeing technology stretch its application.

For example, in August 2019 a video was posted on Snapchat of a vicious brawl at Berwick Secondary College, including a teacher being attacked. The video was widely circulated. This follows a discovery in April 2019 of Instagram and Snapchat accounts that specifically hosted videos of students fighting and being bullied.

From a sexting and IBA perspective, apps such as Snapchat are also generally involved. For young girls aged 15 – 17 who have experienced IBA, 47% of these incidents occur over Snapchat. The impact of these incidents for individuals and organisations is well documented in the SBS show “The Hunting” which follows the story of several young people during incidents intimate images shared without consent.

You can read more about how organisation’s duty of care and child safety considerations in a digital world in our previous article.

Key lessons and next steps

Organisations that work with children need to ensure that they are prepared to address child safety concerns in a digital context quickly and effectively. Unfortunately, this is often an area that is not prioritised.

We recommend that organisations undertake the following steps:

  1. Train your staff on digital trends – it is important that your staff and volunteers are aware of rising child safety concerns such as IBA. Recently, we were presenting to staff members and upon discussing Yubo (an app advertised as Tinder for teenagers), a teacher realised that her students had been using it in her class. With that knowledge, she was able to have conversation with her students about the risks associated with that app and how to mitigate them.
  2. Train your students on appropriate social media use – organisations that work with children should be having conversations with them about appropriate social media use. Often, young people are unaware of the potential repercussions of their actions and how to navigate relationships in a digital world. Engaging with parents on this topic can also help build a shared understanding.
  3. Review your policies – consider if your policies and procedures currently set out your organisation’s expectations in relation to digital citizenship. Additionally, it is worth reviewing if your documents currently provide you with enough authority to be able to manage electronic child safety concerns. For example, can you confiscate a child’s phone?
  4. Prepare to respond and investigate – while responding to all child safety concerns can be challenging, those that involve a digital aspect have the added challenge of trying to quarantine evidence and prevent further spread. Organisations should review their incident response and investigation procedures and consider if they document key steps to take in a digital incident. Details for the eSafety Commissioner should also be provided as they are able to assist in removing intimate images shared without consent, quoting a 90% success rate in removing this content.