By Lisa Thee, CEO Minor Guard
Fact: 40% of child pornography reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children(NCMEC) was generated by children themselves via sexting or sextortion.
In 2017, NCMEC received over 10M reports of explicit images of children
That is a 2000% growth rate from 2013.
The great news is that technology has come a long way since then.
We started in February with conducting market research.
We found some trends regarding teens, phones, social media, sexting, and sextortion.
Many of the explicit images being shared between teens were not something they were actively seeking.
They were sent directly to them via peers on social media or text.
In schools everywhere, teens are forwarding explicit images of each other which were shared with them in private.
Typically after a breakup, they get sent to a small group and then from there they go viral.
These teens did not seem to understand that they are distributing child pornography which is a criminal offense.
We met a parent who had to cancel our interview because her 13 year old was still involved in a pending legal investigation.
She had spoken to her teen about risks of sexting weeks before he forwarded pics his friend had sent him.
Their family is still dealing with the fall out from law enforcement.
In the US, Juvenile convicts account for as many as 25 percent of the sex offender registrants.
Although many parents feel that “boys will be boys” that is not how the legal system is set up to deal with sextortion and sexting offenses.
We interviewed a single mom, who got her children cell phones when she got divorced.
She wanted to increase their safety and ability to communicate as they transitioned between her house and their Dad’s house.
While her 12 year old teen son was at camp, he left his 10 year old sister in charge of his phone.
During this time, she was exposed to explicit images for the first time because his friend sent photos of a naked teenage girl via the social media app snapchat.
One can only wonder ideas that gave her about how to be popular with boys.
She reported the issues to her mom who has further restricted his phone access and checks his content weekly.
We observed that teenage (11-14 year old) girls were receiving unsolicited penis pictures from their peers in school on their phones.
These sexts are from boys they have known since kindergarten.
One girl had never seen one before and responded by not talking to her “friend” for a few months.
After he apologized profusely and promised it would never happen again, she reestablished a friendship with him.
Eventually he convinced her to send a picture of herself without her shirt
He replied with lots of compliments and attention.
Then used sextortion to get her to send more explicit images
He then used them to blackmail her into performing sex acts at school against her will.
This only ended when she transferred into a home schooling program.
According to Thorn’s research only 1 in 3 victims of Sextortion report their experience to anyone.
We also spoke with parents whose 14 year old girl received an explicit image from a boy the first week of high school.
The family had known this boy since preschool.
When the victim decided to report the sexting incident on her phone to the school, the bullying began.
The boy involved was popular and told the girls that she was making his life hard.
They started calling her names and throwing food at her in the halls.
She has now transferred to an online high school.
This is the kind of bullying that can lead to teen suicide.
Call to Action
The current and future generations are digital natives and will always be ahead of adults on technology.
Especially on social media apps.
The current model that forces parents into the role of detective and technology trainer is not effective or efficient.
Among children, the average age in the US for a cell phone is 10 years old, and according the Ericsson’s mobility report that age will drop to 6 by 2020.
This will bring a new, younger wave of users into the phone market.
The adolescent brain is not completely developed until 24 to understand the long term implications of sharing explicit images.
I believe there is a large opportunity for start ups to proactivly help them to learn from their mistakes before content gets off the device.
There is an opportunity for parents and teens to support these businesses by buying products or sharing on social media.
The status quo is simply unacceptable.
Please let me know your thoughts on the issue of sexting and sextortion on phones.