'Sure you want to send that photo?': Approaching the issue of sexual extortion with youth

Are you sure you want to send that photo?

That's the question the Uncertain Terms campaign is hoping teenagers will ask themselves before they send compromising photos that could be used as part of sexual extortion, or sextortion.

The campaign is a B.C.-wide initiative created by the Coquitlam based Children of the Street Society, an organization  that warns youth how one sexual photo can be used to extort more photos or favours.

It's targeting teens with videos and bus advertisements, compelling them to make sure they know the consequences, or terms and conditions before they send compromising photos.

Three posters, which feature young people about to send naked photos of themselves, have been distributed to bus shelters around the Lower Mainland, and schools throughout the province. The youth are concealed by boxes with terms of service warnings of the dangers of image sharing, which they wouldn't normally receive before posting in real life.

Children of the Street Society executive director, Diane Sowden says feedback from parents, double digit increases in reports of online sexual exploitation, and high profile cases such as the cyberbullying of B.C. teen Amanda Todd motivated the society to begin this preventative campaign.

Sowden says it's not like 20 years ago when predators approached children in public places, like playgrounds and malls. Now, predators are using technology to connect with and groom victims.  

"It doesn't really matter your age or your gender ... predators will approach individuals to try and take advantage of them, and we need to make sure that the youth knows how to keep themselves safe, and that parents and caregivers are talking to their children about this issue," says Sowden. 

The posters are supplemented with a television advertisement, where a teenage girl is prompted with several warning boxes as she prepares to send a naked photo of herself. The commercial concludes with the message, "sexual extortion doesn't come with a warning."

Education and open dialogue

The second part of the campaign provides parents with a customizable contract that addresses image sharing and sextortion.

Parents can use the contract to help approach their children about the topic and provide assurances that if something does happen they won't get mad, but will listen and be supportive.

"The idea of the contract is not only to have the youth say I'm going to do this, this, and this, and follow certain rules. It also is for the parents to say, 'I'm not going to punish you. I'm not going to be mad at you. I'm not going to judge you. I want to be a safe person that you can come and talk to about issues that happen online," said Sowden.

Sowden recommends that parents should start the discussion on the day their child gets their first device, and that conversation should continue as trends and technology changes.

"If we hand kids different devices we also have to give them the tools to keep themselves safe, it's no different then when you hand the car keys to your 16 year old, you do things to make sure they're safe, you do education, you supervise, and you continue the conversation about keeping yourself safe, exactly the same thing with a device," said Sowden.

Founder of social media education company, Mediated Reality, Jesse Miller says that children and parents need to be more aware of the dangers that mobile technology presents.

"With mobile technology becoming more pervasive in our everyday lives, I think we're at a stage now where kids need to have more empowerment and more dialogue about what their experiences online are like," said Miller. 

"If it saves one kid that's more than enough in my opinion, and for a lot of children using technology they really do believe that nothing bad will happen."