The sexting wars continue

hasinoff coverThe daily news brings word of a sexting uproar in Liberty, Missouri, where eight males have received suspensions of varying lengths after passing around compromising photos of female classmates. Amanda Marcotte at Slate notes:

It’s time for a nationwide reckoning on sexting. It’s clearly not a temporary fad but, like oral sex and Rule 34, a permanent part of modern American sexuality. We need to move onto the second phase, which should involve educating people—especially young people—on how to sext responsibly. While some risk reduction should be taught (only sext with people you trust, consider keeping your face out of pictures), the bulk of this education should be focused on respect and consent.

In the recent UIP release Sexting Panic, author Amy Adele Hasinoff elaborates:

Though many people assume that teen sexting is always wrong and dangerous, the problematic effect of this assumption is that it becomes very difficult to see the distinctions between consensual sexting and the nonconsensual production or distribution of personal sexual images. This means that victims of such harm can be seen as equal participants and handed the same punishment as the people who deliberately violated their privacy. This book suggests that teens, and girls in particular, need protection from malicious peers and overzealous prosecutors, but to accomplish this it may also be necessary to recognize girls’ agency and their choices to sext consensually.

As Fine and McClelland (2006) explain, abstinence-only training may be counterproductive: “Having skills merely to say no does not help young people make tough decisions, but instead simply drains decision-making from them and places them in the hands of more powerful others—the state, the media, advertisements, a partner, abuser, or predator.”

The alternative is to understand young people’s capacity for choice. It may be helpful to think about agency, for teen girls and for everyone, as always relative, constrained, and contextual. This book suggests that acknowledging girls’ agency might help clarify the important distinction between willingly choosing to create and share an image of oneself and forwarding intimate images of other people without their permission to third parties.