Editors note: Before you read further, please note that this piece includes mention of sexual violence online. Mind yourself if you choose to read further.
The first time I experienced sexual violence I was 13. I had just gotten Snapchat (a big moment in the life of a young teenager). I received a picture from someone I knew, but not well. I was very excited to see what I had been sent. My naive mind raced – does he like me? Could this be my first boyfriend? What will our wedding cake look like? A typical spiral of thoughts. I opened the picture and there it was a completely unwanted sexually explicit image.
When I was 13 my favourite TV show was H20. I still believed in Santa and I was still convinced that my teddy bears could understand me. I was a child.
An issue too many young people have to deal with
This incident was the first of many. Since then I’ve gotten so many unwanted pictures from so many different sources. It was also the beginning of being asked to send explicit pictures in return, and when I refused, being told that I was ugly, disgusting, and a bitch.
For years, this has been an ongoing issue for me, and so many of the people I know. It is genuinely frightening that it is something that is just accepted by so many young people. Only within the last year or two have I realised that they have no right to subject me, or any of us, to any of it.
Made to feel this was my fault
When I brought this issue to an adult I was asked, “well why did you add them?” Those six words had a massive impact on my young mind. I genuinely believed it was my fault. I thought that if I had not been so stupid as to add anybody who asked then I wouldn’t have this issue.
My young self mistakenly understood that my value was measured by my number of snaps, my number of followers. At the time, I was desperate to catch up with those who had been on the platform for some time before me, I added anyone who asked.
But we should be able to add anyone we want without fear of receiving a picture of their genitals. No one should ever feel that it’s ok for them to be the online equivalent of a flasher. The solution is not for me to have behaved differently, but rather for those sending these images to stop.
What we can all do to help
I wish that someone had told me that I wasn’t in the wrong and that no one had a right to put me in that situation. Bystanders can have such a positive impact and can make all the difference in these difficult situations.
Silence encourages violence
Recently I spoke to a close friend of mine because a lad in his year had been sending inappropriate pictures to girls in my year. They are minors, he is not. My friend told other people, spread the word and before long people were posting their experiences and calling out this unacceptable behaviour. The message here is to say something where you can because being silent encourages this violence. All it takes is for one person to call out the actions of a perpetrator, by doing so you are helping to discourage this disgusting behaviour.
Take a stand
It is so important that we take the time to educate ourselves on these issues. We need to recognise unacceptable behaviour and shatter any suggestion that it is something we have to put up with. We should be asking ourselves questions, for example, what makes it so that people feel that they have a right to send explicit images without consent? Why have we just accepted it? I believe that we should be actively addressing this as an issue.
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