Schools need more robust guidance on handling sexual image sharing, study suggests

Schools need more robust guidance on how to respond to abuse through sexual image sharing, a study suggests.

The research looked at how the difference between consensual and non-consensual sharing can sometimes be conflated.

It also identified that when the advice to pupils was not to sext in the first place, it was likely that anyone becoming a victim of non-consensual sharing would blame themselves.

Study author Jenny Lloyd said: “The main thing that has come out of this is that while there is guidance, the advice focuses on prevention of image sharing – consensual or otherwise.

“There is a whole victim blaming narrative, and they may not disclose what has happened to a teacher, and the students at school don’t necessarily support that person.

“I just don’t think enough schools are having conversations about the abusive and coercive sharing of images.”

Ms Lloyd, who is a research fellow at the University of Bedfordshire, based her findings on data from focus groups, observations, case reviews and reviews of policies and procedures.

She argues that responses to sexting must move beyond risk aversion and challenge the socio-cultural systems that enable abuse through sexual image sharing.

The research was carried out across four local authorities and included seven different schools – including 16-18 provision, pupil referral units for those excluded, further education colleges, faith schools, sixth forms, and special educational provisions – and the multi-agency partnership.

In total, 142 people – 59 young people, 58 school staff and 25 multi-agency – were engaged to participate in 33 focus groups.

The age of the young people involved ranged from 13 to 21 with a mean age of 14.9 years.

The research found that abuse through image sharing happened in all schools visited and typically involved a girl’s image being shared on social media without her consent.

This could have been through someone directly sharing the image with their friends, social media “followers” or anonymously.

One of the methods identified was the use of “bait out” pages, usually on Instagram, where people are invited to send in nude images they want shared.

Speaking anonymously at a focus group, one respondent said the point of the pages was “humiliation”.

Identified only as Joe, he said: “It’s almost worse than beating someone up. You can heal from a fight but a photo is always there. It says how to find her because they tag them.”

But the anonymous nature of these posts means teachers may not be able to gather evidence of who shared the image.

In the study published in Gender and Education, Ms Lloyd said: “All students and teachers appeared resigned to the fact that image sharing (both consensual and non-consensual) was inevitable and there was very little schools could do to prevent this.

“Firstly, because students felt schools do not have jurisdiction to penalise students for things outside school and secondly, because sanctions, such as suspension, were ineffective.”

The study suggests a number of things schools would need to address the issue, including robust tried and tested guidance on how to respond to abuse through sexual image sharing.

The UK Council For Child Internet Safety (2016) has developed guidance for schools to supplement statutory guidance on keeping children safe in education.

It states: “If a young person has shared imagery consensually, such as when in a romantic relationship, or as a joke, and there is no intended malice, it is usually appropriate for the school to manage the incident directly.

“In contrast, any incidents with aggravating factors, for example, a young person sharing someone else’s imagery without consent and with malicious intent, should generally be referred to police and/or children’s social care.

“If you have any doubts about whether to involve other agencies, you should make a referral to the police.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Chris Radburn / PA Wire.