Sexting, Nudes, and Consent

By Jillian Gilchrest, Age 33

Last week, news broke that high school football players in a Connecticut town had been sharing intimate images, what today’s youth refer to as “nudes,” of fellow students without their consent. As with most violations that are sexual in nature the response from the public was mixed, with many people questioning how these young women could put themselves in that position and lamenting that these poor young men would have their futures ruined for merely acting like boys. Talk about victim blaming. Thankfully some, like Hartford Courant sports columnist Jeff Jacobs, actually called out the young men for breaking the trust of those young women and acting like “cruel little boys.”

Our culture is quick to blame the victim when it comes to violence against women, in fact it’s rampant in instances of sexual and domestic violence. And now, when you add technology into the mix, people all but lose their minds. “Why in the world would kids share nude photos? Don’t they know those pictures will follow them around forever?” Well actually no, they probably don’t realize that. Like many youth, they can’t fathom being 35 with a family and a job, just like how we couldn’t when we were their age.

As for the sharing of images, from what I’ve read and the conversations I’ve had, it’s very similar to the social pressures many of us experienced in middle and high school, except that technology is involved. When I was in high school…not too, too long ago (1996-2000), rumors would fly about who was doing what with whom. This girl did that sexual act with that guy, and then he went even further with another girl, etc. The social pressures to perform certain sexual acts because other people were doing them are some of the same social pressures causing young people today to share “nudes.”

Another major pressure comes from your partner. When you’re young and really into a guy and he tells you how much it would mean to him if you had sex or in this case, share a nude photo, that might make you share a photo, especially if he questions your commitment to the relationship if you’re unwilling to do so. The expectation is that those intimate images will not be shared with other people, just like how girls in my day believed that what you did behind closed doors was kept behind closed doors. There are men after all who don’t “kiss and tell,” right!?

Maybe even more problematic than the public response to this violation was the language used in much of the media coverage to discuss it. Terms like “revenge porn” and “child pornography” were thrown around to describe the incident. This is troubling and I believe endemic of a culture where porn is so mainstream. Sharing intimate images of someone without their consent is not porn. Those young women did not agree to have their nude pictures shared amongst their peers and they certainly didn’t agree to make porn. Furthermore, calling anything “child porn” is simply ridiculous because children can never consent to sexual acts. Call it what it is-images of sexual violence.

Last spring, Connecticut lawmakers passed a new law to punish the sharing of intimate images of another person without their consent. Now, this fall we will get to see that law in action. Many people will call for a better understanding of the law and teaching children about the implications of technology. This is a great law, but we need to start educating our young people early — before they run afoul of the law. What I believe we need most of all is to educate and raise our young people to respect each other, to engage in healthy relationships, and to ensure that they obtain consent. Otherwise, the medium may change, but the underlying behaviors will continue.

jillian

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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