International Safer Internet day sparks discussion on sexting

People all over the world are marking Tuesday, Feb. 6 as International Safer Internet Day and the Ontario Provincial Police officers are taking this time to encourage young people and their families to make a report if they are being victimized online.

Recent study shows sending sext and sharing without consent should be discussed separately

Cybertip.ca is a national tip line where reports of sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet can be made. Since it's inception in 2002, officials say the tip line has responded to over 245,000 reports. (Cybertip.ca / web)

People all over the world are marking Tuesday, Feb. 6 as International Safer Internet Day and the Ontario Provincial Police officers are taking this time to encourage young people and their families to make a report if they are being victimized online.

"The Ontario Provincial Police are working diligently to protect children in our communities, but police cannot be everywhere at once," OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes stated in a written statement on Tuesday.

"It is important for parents to be proactive and speak with their kids about their experience online and potential safety concerns, such a cyber-bullying and privacy."

Sending and sharing sexts

According to Faye Mishna, a Professor and Dean of Social Work at the University of Toronto, more than half of twenty year olds have sent sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone and it's a social culture that's not about to change anytime soon.

She spoke with CBC's Superior Morning Radio show host Lisa Laco about an academic study she's leading called the Non-Consensual Sharing of Sexts: Behaviours and Attitudes of Canadian Youth.

She said there are two different parts to sexting and both should be discussed separately.

"There's sending and there's sharing...and we need to separate it...[because] sending sex does not have to be problematic...and sharing sex, without consent on the other hand, is not okay," Mishna explained.

And while most teenagers are told to stop sending these messages in order to avoid problems, Mishna said that puts the blame on the person who sent the message, rather than the individual who shared it without consent.

"When we talk about them together, research finds that it's not helpful," Mishna continued, "so adults needs to separate it and adults need to recognize...that sending it in itself is not problematic."

Sext education needed

In the end, she said her study recommends that just like sex education parents need to provide our youth with education on sexting.

"Telling kids not to do it doesn't work," Mishna said, "we need sext education about sending; how and when and what to make it okay...[but] sharing sext, non consensual, needs to also be talked about but separately because that's more about doing something that's not okay."

On International Safer Internet Day, OPP informed residents about the national tip line known as cybertips.ca which provides education and awareness material, along with strategies on how to protect your children from sexual exploitation on the Internet.