‘Sexting’ puts youth at risk: expert

Cyber-bullies using explicit images to control peers

Videos posted online of teens beating another youth, emailed threats, nude photos posted to an open Facebook page – today’s youth are faced with an online world rife with bullies.

Darren Laur, who specializes in helping young people safely navigate that environment, has a message for parents, on the brink of national Bullying Stops Here, Pink Shirt Day on Wednesday (Feb. 29).

Many parents don’t know enough about the growing trend of sexting, which includes sending nude digital photos, texting sexually explicit messages, even sexcasting or webcasting a sexual act, Laur says.

The Langford resident teaches violence prevention, safety awareness and self-protection strategies through his company Personal Protection Systems Inc. – separate from his work as a veteran Victoria police staff sergeant.

Studies have shown that one-third of youth, ages nine to 16, have sent a nude digital picture of themselves to someone, usually a boyfriend or girlfriend, says Laur, who has taught his strategies to 30,000 kids in schools throughout B.C.

Sexting makes the photographed youth vulnerable to sextortion or extortion, Laur says.

In one case, a Grade 10 girl in the Capital Region sent a nude photo of herself to a boyfriend. After they broke up, he posted the picture on Facebook.

Though Laur helped get the photo taken down, and the male is going through the restorative justice process, Laur says cyber-bullying victims suffer.

In the last 18 months, he helped more than a dozen youth who were considering suicide because of cyber-bullying or, as Laur calls it, digital peer aggression.

He is constantly reminding kids today that their online actions are “public, permanent and searchable,” and “so … what they’re doing online is now coming back to haunt them later in life.”

He also encourages youth to speak out about criminal behaviour.

“If the silent majority stands up to the digital peer aggressors and says, ‘Enough is enough and if you don’t stop we’re going to tell,’ all of a sudden we now take the power away from that digital peer aggressor,” he said. “Now the bully understands that they no longer have that audience anymore.”