Sexual exploitation of young women and girls (and boys/young men) through mobile phones and internet interactive mediums

Business and professional women are mindful that action to stop and prevent violence against women and girls in Australia is a priority issue.

BPW has been committed to the development of girls and women to their full potential and to achieve equity and justice for them for over for over 80 years.

The meeting voiced their aprehension that a significant and growing emotional and mental assault is occurring in contemporary Australia through the targeting of girls and young women (and boys/young men) through the misuse of modern forms of technology such as mobile phones, social networking sites and other on-line media.  They raised a grave concern regarding the potential of these technologies being misused to sexually exploit women and girls by people who, for example, share images of these women/girls without their consent and in contexts for which they were not intended.  This can amount to sexual abuse and exploitation, and is an assault on the emotional and mental health of the victims, leaving them feeling isolated, shamed, and besieged. These effects can cause serious long- term damage to the emotional, mental health and personal safety of those effected including suicide.

BPW Australia is establishing a working taskforce to take action. New technologies (including mobile telephony, wireless media devices and on-line spaces such as the World Wide Web) and the applications they make available (such as social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and other interactive media) provide unparalleled opportunities for people across the world, especially young people, to break down barriers that isolate and separate them.

Sadly, these same technologies are being used as a tool by those who seek, as global barriers fall, to gain access to girls and women in order to perpetrate sexual violence on them.  This primarily takes the form of:

*  Sexual harassment, including through the misuse of images (across all technologies that allow texting, exchange of words and photographs)

*  ‘Grooming’, where abusers seek to become ‘friends’ with girls and women on-line, with a view to then organizing a meeting and sexually abusing them

* Distributing illicit pornographic images (ie falling outside legal limits, for example child pornography or ‘snuff’ pornography where victims are actually killed during the act)

* ‘Solliciting’, including through so-called ‘dating sites’, where girls and boys, especially, are lured into providing sexual services for money, thus making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Accessability of new technologies

Although some of the perpetrators of on-line violence are people (most often men) who have a psychological deviance that leads them to act this way (paedophiles, psychopaths), it is recognized that the majority of men who abuse new technologies to perpetrate sexual violence are criminal profiteers who aim to make money through their activities, or else ‘normal’ men (and boys, and sometimes women) acting beyond accepted legal and socially accepted norms for a variety of reasons including curiosity, ignorance and malice.

As technology advances, becomes cheaper and more accessible, and as children and young people grow in skills and familiarity and move out of the protection nets once provided by their families and other adult carers, there is an urgent need to take action in this area.

This action should be complementary to the actions of government and law enforcement, and should focus on using the social outreach and privileged position of BPW in the community.

This recognises that it is not the technology per se that is a problem, but the misuse of it both by those who actively seek to sexually abuse their victims; and those who do so because they are not fully aware of the serious consequences of exploiting images and personal information to which they have access.

While the first of these two groups remains the focus of the work of law enforcement, the second group is a potential target for the attention of organisations such as BPW, which has considerable outreach and influence in the community, and can help to influence understanding and behaviours.

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