Glenlawn Collegiate among schools dealing with 'sexting'

Students at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg are worried that intimate pictures they shared with friends are circulating more widely on social media.

Winnipeg police say sexting starts as young as Grade 5

Winnipeg police say sexting starts as young as Grade 5 2:36

Students at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg are worried that intimate pictures they shared with friends are circulating more widely on social media.

Students at Glenlawn Collegiate approached administrators earlier in 2015 with concerns about inappropriate sexual photos being circulated online. (CBC)
Dionne Deer, the principal of Glenlawn, said the issue arose earlier this year when Grade 9 and 10 students approached administrators with concerns about inappropriate and sexual pictures circulating online.

"I guess we knew that kids aren't always using their devices for good," Deer said. "The potential (for exploitation) is there because those photos, once you've hit send, you have no control on where that is anymore."

Explicit photos of students in various states of undress have circulated on Twitter and other social media networks.

Glenlawn responded by raising the issue widely with parents, staff and the community. A parent information night was called to draw attention to the problem.

Police were invited to help educate students, but no criminal charges have been laid.

"We're not done," Deer said. "It's not a one-off incident. Just because we don't hear about it again doesn't mean it isn't happening."

"We know that often when we tackle something it sometimes goes underground and we don't hear it again for a while."

Youth sexting

Winnipeg Police Const. Andrea Cain is warning that children as young as Grade 5 are sexting — electronically sharing sexual images of themselves with friends — and she's urging parents to teach their kids about the harmful effects.

"Everything we put on the internet is there forever and that's what a lot of kids and a lot of adults don't understand," said Cain, whose job includes talking to parents, students and teachers about the dangers of sexting.

"Sexting we're seeing as low as Grade 5," Cain said.

"I do see kids in Grades 5 and 6 in our schools with iPhones. Now, I'm not their parent and I can't say if that is the right or wrong thing — not by any stretch.

"But we've gone to a point where kids have these things and they have them alone in their bedrooms and that's the point when I'm worried about them."

'Stranger danger'

Cain and other police officers start visiting schools as early as Grade 3 to introduce them to the concept of online safety and online "stranger danger."

She warns parents about the dangers of students using certain applications on their smartphones — apps such as SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Ask.FM, and Yik Yak — and reminds everyone there should be no expectation of privacy with electronic devices.

Once sexual images are distributed, "A lot of people keep it to themselves."

"They're embarrassed, they don't want people to know," she said. "But it's once that photo hits the entire school or the photo goes out to the public and everyone's looking at it and that's when we get the phone calls."

'Girls are really embarrassed' 

Katie, a 16-year-old student at Grant Park High School, said she's seen the problem with her friends.
Katie, 16, said she's witnessed friends humiliated when nude photos of them are circulated between classmates at Grant Park High School. (CBC)
"Girls are always sending pictures to their boyfriends and then they get leaked and then girls are really embarrassed and stuff," Katie said.

"Like I know this one guy, he had a folder of a whole bunch of girls' nudes. He just had like everyone's," Katie said. "One of my friends moved to a different school because they were embarrassed."

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) said more than 4,100 youths seek help each month from its website for problems caused by sexting.

The most viewed page on that site, said CCCP's associate executive director, Signy Arnason, is the one about steps youth can take to remove a video or image from internet.

Arnason said since CCCP began tracking youth-to-youth sexting five years ago, it has received 600 reports of Canadian youths being harmed by sexting.

Most, she said, are referred to police.

"Anyone depicted under the age 18 who is partially dressed, who is fully naked and you send that image or you send that out to the entire school, that is distributing child pornography," said Cain. "It's a huge charge."

Cain said she is unaware of any Winnipeg teen being charged with distributing child pornography, but her sense is it's coming.

"We tell them about the ramifications and that you can be arrested, and that you will be arrested.  That's what we're saying nowadays," said Cain. "Because it's got to stop."

Cain tells parents that kids should never be allowed to have their phones, tablets and web cameras in their bedrooms. She says parents should also make sure kids don't have access to the Apple ID password, which would allow them to download apps without parents' knowledge.

"I know in my house I'm the only one who has that password," Cain said.

She recommends parents delete three apps in particular - SnapChat, Ask.FM, and Yik Yak -- if a child already has them on their phone.

"Lots of naked and inappropriate sexting on SnapChat.  That's what we're finding lots. Not saying that it's not happening on all kinds of other apps but what we're finding right now is mostly SnapChat," Cain said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.