Sexting: A Proposal to Assist those
who are Cyberbullied via Sexts
Sheri Bauman, Ph.D.
University of Arizona
Presentation at the International Bullying Prevention Association
Annual Conference
November 17, 2014
San Diego, CA
• The practice of transmitting sexual content via
digital technology, including images, video,
and text
• Sexts become cyberbullying when they are
sent or posted without permission and cause
humiliation and embarrassment to the target
Legal Issues
• Cyberbullying is not illegal, but sexting can be
prosecuted under existing laws.
• In some states, creation, possession, or distribution of
explicit images of a juvenile can be charged with such
crimes as sexual exploitation of a minor.
• Federal laws prohibit the use of a computer to “ship,
transport, receive, distribute, or reproduce for
distribution a depicting of a minor actually engaging
in sexually explicit conduct,” or anything that is
classified as child pornography.
• When state law considers sexting to be child
pornography, the offense is usually a felony and
conviction requires registration as a sex offender.
• Wolak & Finkelhor, 2011:
– 4% of national sample (age 12- 17) had created
and sent sexual images
• Mitchell, Finkelhor, Jones, & Wolak, 2012:
– Surveyed 1560 Internet users age 10 – 17
2.4% had created nude or almost nude images, but only
1% were sexually explicit
7.1% had received nude or nearly nude images
5.9% had received sexually explicit images
• Pew Internet and American Life survey
– 4% of teens with cell phone sent sexually
suggestive images to someone
– 15% had received such messages
• Temple et al., 2012
– High school students in Texas were sampled
• 28% sent naked photo to someone
• 31% asked for a naked photo from someone
• 57% had received requests to sent a sext and were
bothered by the request
Types of Sexting
• Aggravated:
– Adult involvement, illegal or abusive behavior by
minors, malicious use of images following
conflicts, or using images without knowledge of
subject or despite objections of the subject.
• Experimental
– Emerge from exploration of sexuality
– Efforts to flirt, attract romantic partners,
experiment with sexual activity, or to gain
Prevention & Intervention
• Internet Safety Education (ISE) examined existing
program to teach kids how to avoid being
– Existing approaches did not contain all the
components of effective prevention education
• Developmental factors
– Tend to believe they are invulnerable
– Frontal cortex not completely developed
– Imaginary audience phenomenon exacerbates the
• The photo-sharing app Snapchat offers a false sense
of privacy by promising it will erase photos.
• This collection, which might be published this
weekend, is likely to include child pornography.
Snapchat is popular as a tool for sending nude
images. And half of its users are teenagers between
the ages of 13 and 17.
• "Everyone who sends a message using Snapchat's
service could be at risk," said Patrick Wardle,
research director at security firm Synack.
Psychological Consequences
• Those to have been victimized via sexting are
likely to exhibit symptoms of disorders for
which evidence-based treatment is available:
– Depression
– Anxiety
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
• Used to treat depression in adolescents
• Effective with suicidal adolescents
• Effective for anxiety disorders in children and
• Focus on the cognitive triad
• Dispute cognitive distortions
Initial assessment
• Assess for suicidality. In addition to standard
questions, ask “What could happen to push
you to the point of wanting to end your life?”
• Use established measures (e.g., Beck Youth
Inventory) to assess depression, anxiety,
anger, disruptive behavior, and self-concept
Using CBT: Considerations
• Adult helper must understand the problem and
– Minimizing can exacerbate the problem
– Lack of understanding tells the youth that you don’t
get it
• Self-monitoring of mood and other symptoms
should be introduced
• Cognitive restructuring is basic and very
– Everyone has seen the photo
– Even if the photo is taken down, it could re-appear
and ruin my chances for college, job, etc.
Disputing Distortions
Everyone thinks I’m a whore
Everyone knows what I did
This will haunt me forever
Everyone has seen the picture
Behavioral Interventions
• Design strategy to reduce re-visiting offending
sites, images, etc.
• Relaxation and systematic desensitization for
reducing anxiety
• Include family to assist in monitoring mood,
school attendance, and primarily to enlist support
for the teen
• Identify sources of social support in and out of
• Frequent follow-ups
Brainstorming actions
• Possibilities:
– Contact police
– Change schools
– Close social media accounts
– Change phone numbers
– Join anti-bullying groups
Possible strategies
Contact website and request removal of material
Report to authorities
Consider legal action
Generate positive content (google-bomb) to
balance the negative
• Develop an essay to present to college
admissions or employer
• Hire reputation manager (e.g.,
Thank you for your attention!
[email protected]
Bauman, S. (in press). Cyberbullying and sexting:
School mental health concerns. In R. Witte & S.
Mosley-Howard, Mental health practice in
today’s schools: Current issues and
interventions. NY: Springer.

Sexting - International Bullying Prevention Association