Sexting can have devastating effects on young girls - we must confront it
Sexting is the sharing of sexually explicit photos of oneself or of others, by mobile phone, email or via the web.
There is evidence that in some groups of young people it is very common and that the sharing of intimate photographs is an expected activity.
We at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) are also hearing that vulnerable young people are being pressurised and manipulated into sharing images which are then circulated without their consent.
Both boys and girls send intimate images, although it seems to be more common for girls to do it.
Where someone has shared images in a situation where they trust the other person and that person then circulates the images without their consent, this can have a very severe impact on the victim in question.
We use the term 'victim' because where a person has been betrayed by someone they trust with something so personal and intimate, this has the consequence of making that person feel violated.
They can feel shame, they may withdraw and feel extremely self conscious, feel despair and sometimes can self harm. They may also drop out from ordinary everyday activities with friends and become isolated, be anxious, and have panic attacks.
Sometimes in extreme cases the issue can lead to suicide. The descriptions of how these young people feel as a consequence of what happens to them as a result of sexting, mirror exactly the accounts we hear every day in the rape crisis centre from people who have been victims of a rape or a sexual assault.
And just like victims of sexual violence, far too often the victim is blamed.
In many cases we have seen in the past it is the victim who is blamed and not the perpetrator. This is extremely serious and a problem that must be confronted.
It behoves of all of us, parents, teachers and youth workers to engage with young people and to talk about this issue and the potential dangerous consequences.
The DRCC has devised a programme called BodyRight, as an addition to the social, personal and health education programmes which are delivered in secondary schools and to youth groups.
Some 266 staff from 77 schools, 56 youth services and 19 Youthreach centres and other youth services have been trained and are accredited by DRCC to facilitate the BodyRight programme.
Cosc, the National Office for the prevention of Domestic Sexual and Gender Based Violence has partly funded the development of the programme.
BodyRight provides information and an opportunity for young people to consider attitudes and beliefs about sexual violence and important issues such as what does consent mean.
It also provides information and builds skills to help the young people withstand pressure.
Feedback from facilitators of BodyRight has highlighted a big concern with regard to sexting among young people, which they say is a growing problem.
The DRCC has, as a response, developed an additional module for BodyRight to address the issue of sexting.
By talking about it before it happens and exploring the short term and longer term consequences with the young person, the young person is provided with the opportunity and the skills which prevents them from becoming victims of sexting.
The young person can also be prevented from being someone who passes on images unthinkingly, with sometimes devastating consequences.
Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop is the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. It's national 24-hour helpline is 1800 778888