Over the last five years, I have seen an increase in the number of students sending scandalous images of themselves and/or others via social media. One of the most disturbing incidences that came to our office was of a student and her boyfriend who was living together in a basement apartment. While the girl was in the shower, the neighbor upstairs videotaped her and posted her images on the internet.  Shortly after that situation, one of my students sent a video of herself topless to a guy friend.  Months later, the video was posted to a website where she was publically exposed to her classmates and family members. In another incident, a video was taken and sent of two students performing a sexual act.  After the video was sent, a huge blowup occurred in the classroom.  Then there was a huge incident where nude photos of female students from several schools in our area were posted on Instagram with derogatory comments.  The posts were so disgusting that several police agencies were called in to dismantle the posts. I could continue to list situation after situation, but you get the picture.  In all these situations, the students and families became victims of self and peer extortion and our school and law enforcement had to find quick answers.

Peer/Self Extortion …aka Sexting

The act of sexting has become part of the American teen culture within the last three years. Beyond Borders defines sexting as “youth creating, sending or sharing sexual images and/or videos with peers via the internet and/or electronic devices.” Teens are willing to send nude pictures of themselves as a precursor to having sex. In fact, law enforcement officer, Eric Buehler,  refers to sexting as the new first base! 

Although the mean age of sexting is 16 years old, it is middle school age students who are very willing to share with others on social media. Why would a student expose him/herself.  There are several reasons for sending out risqué images and messages: 

Wanting to experiment sexually;
 Seeking attention and acceptance from peers;
 Feeling pressured or coerced by peers.


Even if a student does not actively engage in sending explicit pictures or texts, he/she may be exploited without his/her knowledge.  For instance, photos or videos can be recorded at a sleepover or party, a webcam may be hacked and images sent out to their contacts someone steals the device of a student and sends them out to their contacts, or a person pretends to be someone he or she is not to entice another person to send photos to him or her (“catfishing”). The act of sending images of a person without their knowledge is called sextortion and is a type of sexual bullying.

There are many examples of sextortion cases that have gained national attention since 2010.

Christopher Patrick Gunn

Christopher Gunn, 31, either posed as Justin Beiber or a new boy at school to entice girls to send explicit pictures to him.  In his ruse as a new student, he would often threaten to send the intimate conversations to the girls’ principal if they refused to send photos.
Jonathan Vance, 24, was able to hack into the Facebook, email, and Myspace accounts of over 50 females in three states by pretending to be a friend or relative.  He would persuade the girls to give him access to their passwords and log into their accounts.
Anthony Stancl, 19, posed as young girl on Facebook and persuaded 30 male classmates in sending him nude photos.
Consequences of Sextortion
Because victims of sextortion are often embarrassed about their involvement, they often fail to report any information about the perp. Teens who experience this type of exposure tend to socially withdraw, become anxious, use drugs and alcohol, suffer from depression, and some even commit suicide.  One of the saddest cases I have come across regarding sextortion was the story of Canadian teen, Amanda Todd.  
Amanda Todd experienced sexual bullying after she met a stranger online who convinced her to flash him.  A year later,  a man on Facebook threatened to send her topless photo to others if she did not “put on a show.” Even though she complied with his demands, the nude photo was sent to her peers at her school.  Amanda began to become anxious, used drugs to numb her sadness, and even moved schools. After several incidents of bullying at her new school, Amanda died of suicide.


How can School Counselors Make an Impact?

For school counselors, it can be overwhelming to deal with drama in school much less deal with students’ drama online!!  However, drama online can have a huge impact in our schools. Here are some strategies for school counselors to use in their school:

1.  Conduct a tech abuse campaign during the month of February during Dating Violence Awareness Month.


Veto Violence – resources on violence for educators.
Our Revolution Teen Conversation Guide for Facilitators
Teen Revolution Conversation Cards
Our Revolution Posters
Relationship Rights and Responsibilities
Abusive Behavior Brochure
Technology and Relationships
Cellular Relationships
Our Revolution Instagram Cards
Love and Respect Guide-Created by Teens in New Mexico

2.  In classroom guidance, educate students on cyber bullying and how to keep themselves safe online.


Digital Footprint Lesson Plan
Secondary Lesson Plans/Handouts from Anti-Defamation League
Common Sense Media-Overexposed Sexting Lesson Plan
Tips for Avoiding Online Sextortion

3.  Use high school peer helpers/educators to educate middle schoolers about sending sexts that are over the line. MTV provides a website that allows students to rate texts as under the line, on the line, or over the line. 

Here is an example of a text that students must rate:

 i think i may be gay and kissed a straight guy whos my best friend when i was drunk?! he avodied me for a month and we’re just now starting to talk again?! what should i think

 4. Book a Teen Angel presentation rather than having an adult talk about cyber safety and privacy. You can even start your own chapter.

Teen Angels – Teen Angels are a group of 13-18 year old students who are specially trained in online safety, privacy and security.

Forming a Teen Angel Chapter

5.  Give teens the tools to protect themselves at home.  There are some great sites that provide teens with callout cards to send out to perps.  Here is one I really like…

6.  Inform teens about the law and consequences for sexting and sexual bullying.

“Currently, sexting falls under the State of Georgia’s child pornography laws. In general, a teenager, who creates, distributes or possesses a sexually explicit image, could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts and circumstances. If convicted for a felony, the sentence could be up to 20 years in prison, and the teenager’s name would appear on Georgia’s sex offender registry for at least 15 years.”

Acts of Sexual Bullying or Sextortion under Georgia law include:

  • Compiles, enters into, or transmits by means of computer or other electronic device;
  • Makes, prints, publishes, or reproduces by other computerized or other electronic device;
  • Causes or allows to be entered into or transmitted by means of computer or other electronic device;
  • Buys, sells, receives, exchanges, or disseminates any notice, statement, or advertisement, or any child´s name, telephone number, place of residence, physical characteristics, or other descriptive or identifying information for the purpose of offering or soliciting sexual conduct of or with an identifiable child or the visual depiction of such conduct;
  • Use of an electronic device to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child or another person believed by such person to be a child to commit a sexually explicit act. Conviction for this offense is a felony, unless the victim is 14 or 15 years of age and the offender is no more than 3 years older than the victim in which case the crime is a misdemeanor, and carries a fine of up to $25,000 and up to 20 years in prison.
  • 7.  Educate students about they do if they receive a nude photo?

        Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce

        8. Talk to your administration about investing in evidence based social emotion learning programs, bullying prevention and education, peer education, peer mediation, and restorative justice programs.

        9. Team with your school resource office to educate staff on sexual bullying and what steps they need to take in your school community.

        Role of SRO in Cyberbullying

        10.  Educate parents!  Teach students and parents about maintaining their student’s digital footprint by setting up Google alerts, periodically checking their child’s name online, remove negative remarks and photos from social media, etc.

         Safety Brochure-Self Exploitation

        11. Help students report incidents and create a safety plan.  Check out the Cyberbullying Tracking Form.  Great resource!!

        Help for Teens:

        Wired Safety – This website provides information for educators, parents, and teens on how to stop online abuse.

        Protect Yourself from Ratting – Ratting is when perps use malware to takeover your webcam.  This is a great guide for students!

        Video Chat and Webcam Safety

        How to Stop Bullying on Social Media

        Need Help Now/Canada – Helps teens remove photos and information from online sites.

        Send This Instead- App that allows teens to send funny messages when asked for inappropriate photos or texts.  Great resource!!

        Childline-British site with great information of what to do when someone sends you photos, how to delete photos, how to report someone, what to send instead, and how to keep the chat flirty, not dirty.

        Additional Resources for Educators:

        Digital Citizenship for High School Students – includes videos, definitions, journals, tips, information for parents, legal consequences.  Great Resource!!

        Unhealthy Relationships and Internet Safety-educate students on the differences between a healthy and unhealthy relationship online.
        Online Luring-discover how predators groom students to send online photos to them.

        Take 25 Resource Guide for High School Students

        Please share any resources or ideas you have on this topic!!

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