Sexting. What is it and what kind of protection do I need?

With the increasing popularity and availability of smartphones and a continuous waves of new and innovative social media apps “sex texting” or “sexting” as it’s more popularly referred to as a playful and harmless but it is causing more and more problems for both young people and adults alike.

Here are some basic guidelines to help protect yourself and others:

1. Don’t assume that a message, photo, or video you share privately will stay private.

Photo and video sharing apps like Snapchat and others are said to be safe and secure platform to share private photos, videos, and messages. Most of these apps allow you to share content with contacts or friends for a limited time – generally up to 10 seconds and then the photo, video, or message “self-destructs” – no longer accessible to the recipient.

Unfortunately these apps aren’t as secure as the developers would have you believe. Snapchat was recently fined by the FTC for misrepresenting to users about the app’s security and privacy. Additionally, recipients can override the “self destruct” function by screen capturing also known as screenshooting or installing third-party apps that save the photo, video, or text file to their phone.

2. There can be legal and personal consequences.

Beyond technological security risks it’s also important to understand that sharing explicit photos or videos can get you in trouble with the law as well as do irreparable damage to someone’s reputation or your own.

Even photos shared by consenting parties can end up in the hands of unwanted recipients. While the responsibly to keep content you share private rests on the intended recipient, they may not always honor your privacy and you should consider what would happen if your privacy was compromised before posting or sharing.

3. Don’t pressure others to send explicit (sexy) pictures if they are uncomfortable doing so.

Many teens have reported that they have felt pressure by others to send sexual photos or videos even though they don’t want to. In many of these instances it’s an older guy pressuring younger girls for sexy pics. This is a form of sexual and dating abuse.

Call out your friends on this behavior, hold offenders accountable and support victims to get help.

4. Don’t forward content not meant for you.

When you forward pictures sent for your eyes only, you not only violate that person’s trust and exploit their vulnerability – you also contribute to sexual assault and dating violence.

5. Block and report users who send unwanted or illegal material.

Sometimes people receive messages, photos or videos from others that they don’t want – even from people that they are currently dating.

If someone sends you something that offends you or shares something that isn’t meant for you, ask him or her to stop. If they refuse, use the blocking feature on your phone or app to stop that person from continuing to contact you.

If their online behavior has crossed a line legally, or is seen as threatening, stalking, or harassing ask an adult you trust for help and consider reporting the incident to the authorities.

6. If someone is using sexual images as a means to threaten, bully, or harm you – It is not your fault. Even if you made the decision to take and send the images, nobody has the right to use them to hurt you. There is support available.

For help please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1.800.656.HOPE or visit the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s (CCASA) website: http://www.ccasa.org/rape-crisis-services/