Sexting and Online Grooming: Risks of the Digital Society

Sexting and Online Grooming: Risks of the Digital Society

We are facing a period of digital transformation that is causing active changes in our society. NICTs or New Information and Communication Technologies offer many benefits. In particular, they facilitate the dissemination of knowledge and culture, promote economic development, enhance creativity, promote social relations and are real entertainment spaces.

The network supposes the appearance of a new place to explore our sexuality. Adults, young people and adolescents experience the feelings of their bodies and play with erotic content sent through networks. The Internet provides constant communication, available throughout the day and virtually anywhere in the world. These factors facilitate relationships but they still involve some significant risks, especially for minors. Some of the best-known risk practices are the sexting and the online grooming

Adolescence is an evolutionary stage during which the search for identity intensifies. It is a moment of experimentation and discovery of one's own body and sexual orientation. The feeling of risk is usually low and is associated with a tendency to disinhibition. Indeed from a biological point of view, self-regulation of emotions and the ability to control our actions are still developing.

The Internet presupposes for young people a path of expression and experimentation of harmless appearance. This combination of factors may lead to risk behaviors especially if no sexual and emotional education has been given in order to learn how to protect oneself. Exchanging sexual messages and exploring one's own body is not a bad thing as long as adequate measures are taken. Otherwise, these behaviors can lead to serious problems related to privacy, security or physical and mental integrity.

"Do not tell in the networks what you do not want to see on a panoramic poster with your photo on the side."

-Erin Bury-

Digital risks: What are the sexting and the online grooming ?

The sexting involves sending sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages over the internet or mobile devices. This practice is motivated, for example, by an attempt to explore identity or sexual orientation, to perform erotic games with one's partner or with several people at the same time, to increase one's self-esteem or being able to do and say things that we are not able to face because of shame, fear or other limitations.

Of course, the practice of sexting is not realized exclusively between teenagers. The Internet is a gateway to millions of young people and adults who use the network to share sexual content. Sometimes we are not aware of the possible risks. It is important to be aware of this for two basic reasons:

  • To sexually educate minors and teach them to use the network safely.
  • To personally choose what we want to do with our body and our privacy on the Internet.
"Uploading photos, videos, or sexual content messages over the internet or mobile device is known as sexting."

On the other hand, the online grooming is known as the process through which an adult sexually abuses minors through the Network. The Internet offers the possibility of hiding personal identity by generating different profiles that do not necessarily coincide with reality.

A person may appear with a fake profile and communicate with them simultaneously with different people. This assumes a high risk because adults have easy access to the miners' accounts with which they can make contact without any kind of control. Abuse may occur directly or through indirect channels such as the Internet by requesting explicit sexual content from minors, such as photos or personal videos.

According to a study presented in 2018 by Manuel Gamez-Guadix and Patricia de Santisteban, the probability of sexting increases gradually with age. At age 12, about 3% of minors have already practiced sexting. At 17, the percentage exceeds 35%.

"In the past you were what you had, now you are what you share."

-Godfried Boogaard-

Features of the Internet that facilitate abuse through networks

There are certain factors that facilitate the persistence of sexual abuse on the Network. As we have already mentioned, the Internet makes it possible to hide the reality and to show itself behind a mask. This anonymity allows adults to carry out behaviors that they could not achieve in front of or in their personal environment.

In fact, the Internet has a large uncontrollable share where many interactions can occur. It is easy to access different contacts and profiles without the need to respect social norms. The Network is home to a parallel world, the digital world, where the absence of face to face allows you to clear the rules of the game and the limits.

In this sense, the perception of the risk decreases and the users of the networks commit imprudences when they enter in relation, especially with regard to the teenagers. Relationships occur much more frenetically, uninhibited and fast.

The profiles do not seem to represent real people. Starting or ending a relationship becomes superficial just as it could be a business transaction in which emotional or sexual gain is exchanged. When profits disappear, boredom appears and we move on to the next profile. The lack of direct contact seems to encourage experimentation without measuring its consequences.

All of this affects the empathy capacity of abusive people. The abyss between the Network and reality prevents them from putting themselves in the other's shoes and we do not know the suffering or the possibility of hurting others. For the victims, an absence of security then occurs. There is no concrete space to connect with because the Network does not have space-time boundaries. What is shared via the Network is saved forever.

One of the main mistakes is not to consider the importance of our actions on the internet compared to what we do face to face. It is very important to be aware of the impact of networks and their risks. We need to ask ourselves about who is behind the screen, who we are talking to, and what content we share with that person.

"Internet has become the nervous system of our societies, we must learn to use it."

-José Luis Orihuela-

How to prevent abuse on the Internet?

In the case of minors, it is very important to set up a parental control network interactions and psychoeducation to ensure proper use of the network. The progress of technologies is a palpable reality, we live in a world in which we can not conceive the lack of internet access. Being aware of this will help us.

It is necessary to accept the fact that the Internet is part of our daily life. For it, you have to learn how to use it safely. There is no point prohibiting access to phones or preventing access to social networks if we do not educate young people to use them appropriately and in accordance with values ​​such as respect and listening.

Education based on respect and consent is a fundamental pillar of any healthy relationship. Adolescents must learn to set boundaries, to explore their sexuality in a healthy way, to say no, to respect others when rejecting a proposal or sexual contact, to equip them with communication skills to express their emotions and their desires without hurting others, to give them a safe space to express their fears and concerns and to warn them of virtual reality.

It's not about creating fears or inhibiting worries. It is necessary inform about the dangers of the networks so that these young people know how to recognize a situation at risk and know how to act accordingly. If a minor brings up a situation of abuse, it is important to listen to him and allow him to feel protected. The victim must never be made to feel guilty because in a situation of abuse, a person has used his power and superiority to manipulate and implement a process of coercion. We must therefore offer emotional support and seek the help of a professional.

"Whether you decide to practice sex individually, or with another person and regardless of the type of sexual activity chosen, personal and sexual partner respect is fundamental."

-Lara Castro-

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