British Columbia

New VPD program helps teens understand consequences of sexting

This school year, the Vancouver Police Department is expanding its sexting outreach program — the first of its kind in B.C.

Focus is on education, not punishment

A new VPD outreach program aims to educate teenagers about sexting. (Summer Skyes photography/Flickr)

The Vancouver Police Department is partnering with the Children of the Street Society to educate kids about sexting and to help them understand the emotional and psychological consequences.

It is an expansion of a 2015 pilot project.

The VPD's youth justice programs coordinator Amy Powter says the program is necessary, as sexting — the act of sending or receiving intimate photographs or texts online — is a fairly significant issue for youths aged 12 to 17.

"We seem to have more and more youth coming forward to our school liaison officers saying this has happened to me. I've been victimized, or somebody got this photo and they're passing it on to other people and I don't know what to do."

Powter says sexting can have repercussions teens don't bargain for, adding there is a criminal charge for sharing an intimate photo without consent, and possible child pornography charges.

But Powter says there are other consequences that may not be criminal in nature — like how these kinds of images can affect teenagers' emotional health, family, and even how they can hurt future chances at employment years down the line.

For example, in 2014 a Victoria teenager was found guilty on children pornography charges after sharing naked images online of her boyfriend's former girlfriend.

Although she was awarded a 6-month conditional discharge in 2016, she told the CBC's The Current how her life had become considerably harder since the charges.

Girls and boys separated

The program recruits teens who have reported being victimized, those "caught" sexting, or anyone else referred by the school liaison officer.

Small groups of around six young people have conversations around topics like legal and social consequences, healthy relationships and safety.

"We don't share personal stories, and keep the groups quite small," Powter says. "We have open, honest conversations about what's going on in youth culture."

Girls and boys are separated, Powter explains, as sexting affects them in different ways.

But Powter says the boys — during a pilot project — were just as open as the girls about how sexting affects them.

"That was good for me to hear, because I had some preconceived notions of the boys demanding these photos and  pressuring the girls, and that really wasn't the case."

Parents also attend the workshops, but they are separated into a different room where they learn about sexting, youth culture, and how to talk to their kids about setting boundaries.

Youth and parents who are interested in participating can contact Powter at youthservices@vpd.ca.

With files from The Early Edition


To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Vancouver Police's teen sexting outreach program

now