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Cyber-bullying, sexting can affect males, females differently

Published on -8/19/2013, 10:00 AM

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This is the seventh in a series about abuse and violence in adolescent dating and romantic relationships.

Q: What is the relationship between teen dating violence and abuse and technology?

A: The following article is based on a 2009 digital abuse study co-sponsored by MTV and the Associated Press. A total of 1,247 respondents ages 14 to 24 participated in an online survey. Digital abuse includes dating abuse and cyber-bullying. The latter term is defined as the use of electronic communication for the purpose of harming another person. Cyber-bullying includes digital communications to manipulate, intimidate, falsely discredit or humiliate other persons. Cyber-stalking is the form of cyber-bullying that involves repeated patterns of cyber-bullying or cyber-harassment. Sexting is a more specific type of digital abuse in which one person sends explicit sexual pictures or messages from one cell or mobile phone to another. All these digital abuses can be found in online dating violence and abuse.

Of the people interviewed (ages 14 to 24), 50 percent reported experiencing digital abuse. Among the teens, girls were more likely to have been targeted than boys at the rate of 53 percent to 42 percent, respectively. The respondents in the survey stated the most common types of digital abuse they experienced were spreading lies (online and in text messages), violation of trust and digital disrespect, mean messages online and in texts.

Half of the people in the study reported seeing other people mistreating each other on social network sites. Less common but also occurring forms of digital abuse included impersonation, blackmail or pressure for sexting.

Roughly a third of the people surveyed had been involved in naked sexting. In people aged 14 to 17 years, 24 percent took part in naked sexting. One in 10 shared naked pictures of themselves, slightly more females than males. Respondents reported sending naked photos to people they knew only online (29 percent), whereas 24 percent sent photos to persons they wanted to date. Of those who sent naked pictures online, 61 percent reported having been pressured to do so, at least one time.

A little less than half of sexually active youth reported participating in sexting activities. Sexually active respondents also were more apt to shared naked photos of themselves.

Approximately one in five sexting recipients reported forwarding their sexting communications to others. Motivations included assuming others would like to see them, showing off, and boredom. Other teens reported they had shared sexting as jokes or efforts to be funny. In addition, 14 percent thought recipients of naked photos shared them with others without consent. Boys were more likely to describe sexting as "hot," whereas girls used more derogatory terms such as "gross" and "slutty."

Regarding digital dating abuse, 25 percent of young people in romantic relationships reported their dating partners check up on them many times daily, either by cellphone or online. Twenty-two percent of this group believed their significant others check up on them too much, whereas 15 percent said their partners complained they checked up on them too often.

One in four dating adolescents stated their partners had checked their text messages without their permission. Others (12 percent) reported boyfriends or girlfriends calling them names, putting them down or saying mean things either on cellphones or online. Respondents reported more than one in 10 have had girlfriends or boyfriends demand their passwords. In addition, one in 10 reported exes demanded they "unfriend" past girlfriends or boyfriends on their social networks.

Although youth recognize digital abuse has real risks and consequences and is a risk for society (69 percent) and a risk for people their age (76 percent), many do not see beyond the immediate problems. Approximately 51 percent have given thought to the idea that things they put online could come back later and hurt them.

Even fewer young people are aware of potential types of problems from digital abuse. Only one in four had given any thought to possibilities that what they had put online could get them into trouble with police. Twenty-eight percent of students sampled had considered the possibility of getting in trouble at school for things they put online. Twenty-nine percent of respondents who had jobs thought about the possibility of getting in trouble with their respective bosses.

When asked whether respondents would do something if they witnessed someone being bullied online, slightly less than half said they would do nothing. Slightly more than half reported they would ask the cyber-bully to stop. If bullied themselves, 62 percent said they would ask the cyber-bully to stop first, then ask friends for help (59 percent). Some teens said they would tell their parents (58 percent).

A risk factor for digital abuse is sharing passwords. More teens who have shared passwords are targets of digital abuse (68 percent) than those who did not share passwords (44 percent).

More than half of the respondents in the MTV-AP study were upset by cyber-bullying. Most hurtful were rumors and untruths. Digital abuse increases the chances of experiencing mental health issues and increases the risk of suicide.

Digital abuse affects youth from all demographics. It includes all races, all socioeconomic backgrounds, and all regions of the United States, including rural and urban.

Teens in single-parent households are targeted more often. They also are twice as likely to practice sexting as adolescents in households with two adults.

* Next week's article will begin a discussion on what can be done about teen dating violence and abuse.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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