You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: What to look for in an Attorney

 

First, here is my proviso and you will hear it a lot.  I am NOT AN ATTORNEY.  I am not writing this in any way as a form of legal advice.  That’s not my role.  My role is to help people advocate for themselves and find the criminal defense attorney that is the best fit for their needs.

If you have had a visit from some type of law enforcement and they told you that you are now under investigation, you need an attorney.  Most people do not have a criminal defense attorney on speed dial so you, or a family member or loved one, are likely frantically trying to figure out several things.  First, what attorney do you use and second, how the heck are you going to pay for it?

What do you need to look for in an attorney?

  1. You need an attorney who has experience with sex crimes. Many criminal defense attorneys spend their entire careers mostly working with DUI type cases.  They don’t all work with sex crimes.  If you are searching attorney websites, they should state on the site that they have defended sex crimes.  If their website does not state this specifically, if you call, you need to ask whether or not they have experience with sex crimes.  And by experience I don’t mean they have tried one or two cases.  I mean that they have worked on many sex crime cases and know all about the laws and how to help mitigate your sentence.

 

  1. You need an attorney who has experience with sex crimes in your jurisdiction. This means a few things.  First, they obviously need to have passed the bar and are approved to practice law in your state.  Second, they need to have experience in the court where your case will be seen.  What court your case will be in depends on who showed up at your door.  If the FBI or Homeland Security is investigating you, you need a defense attorney who has experience trying sex crimes in the federal court system.  The federal courts and county courts handle these cases differently.  There are nuances in the Federal System that someone who has not seen cases in that venue will not know.  If your case is a county case, you want an attorney who has worked on a number of cases in your county.  Part of this process is the relationship that your attorney has with the prosecutor.

 

  1. You need an attorney with a strategy. When you are interviewing attorneys, you want to know what type of strategy they propose for your case.  At this point, they will not be able to create an actual solid plan as they do not know the details and will not know until the discovery is provided by the prosecution.  However, they should still have an idea of how to proceed and give you some things that you can do now to help with the case.

 

  1. You need an attorney with good reviews. Just like a doctor or a restaurant, there are sites that will help you find a lawyer and also will give you information on the lawyers rating.  For example, you can go on avvo.com to find a criminal defense attorney and read client ratings.  The website www.superlawyer.com can help you find a criminal defense attorney with a good track record and good ratings.

 

In the legal process, the decision about what attorney to use is so important.  I cannot understate how critical it is to have an attorney with experience specific to cybersex crimes.  Do not choose rashly or lightly.  Take some time.  Talk to the attorney.  Do some research.  Any attorney is going to be expensive.  The price tag will likely be daunting.  If you have any ability to find the money for an attorney, it is my suggestion that you go for it.  If you cannot afford an attorney and have to use a public defender, your defense will not be nearly as customized, and you will have to do a lot of this work yourself.

The next article in our series will discuss the psychosexual evaluation.

Dr. Weeks is a forensic psychologist who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of cybersex offenders.  Her treatment program provides counseling both pre-trial and after adjudication and she provides expert witness testimony.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: Now What?

 

gavel and handcuffs on laptop

If you are reading this blog, either you or someone you care about has recently been visited by the police and are under investigation for a cybersex crime.  You are likely in shock and are likely panicking.  After many years of working with people in this situation, I have learned a thing or two of what to do next.  Even though you might be panicked, immobilized, in shock or depressed, you must take action.

Here is what you need to do right away.

  1. Hire an attorney

If you have the money or can rustle up the money, you need to immediately hire an attorney.  I will talk about what to look for in an attorney in a later post.  What you need to know in these first moments is that you should not just hire the first attorney you talk to.  Talk to several criminal defense attorneys.  Find out how much experience they have working with cybersex cases.  Make sure that the attorney has experience working with cybersex cases at your level.  If the FBI is investigating you, you need an attorney who has experience in Federal Court.  If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you are going to have to be your own advocate during this process.  A court appointed attorney won’t have the time to give you what a private attorney will.  You will have to do some of the leg work yourself.

  1. Make sure you are safe

When I say make sure you are safe, I mean make sure you are emotionally safe.  People who are investigated for cybersex crimes frequently feel immediately suicidal.  The majority of cybersex offenders have never been in trouble with the law before and the entire process can cause a shame spiral.  If you feel suicidal, go to the emergency room or find a hospital where you can go for a few days to ensure your emotional health and well-being.  If you are the loved one of someone who is under investigation be aware that they may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

  1. Find a therapist

Now is not the time to just go down the list of in-network treatment providers from your insurance.  You don’t just need a therapist, you need a specialist.  The therapist you see should have experience treating people in your exact situation. They should have experience treating sexual offenders and perhaps pornography addicts.  While many therapists might be able to help you work through the anxiety and depression that will occur related to the investigation, if they don’t have experience working with the specific sexual behaviors or the court process, they will not be as effective as someone who specializes.

The criminal justice system works at a rather slow pace.  You will have time to deal with all of what comes after the investigation.  I will address many of these things in further posts.

If you are newly investigated please do things now and start to let experienced professionals help you through this process.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is a Clinically Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist and an expert witness in the areas of sexual offending, cybersex offending and sexual addiction.  For more information on her services please go to the Sexual Addiction Treatment Services website. 

 

 

Pornography Problem…. Erotic Conflict or Addiction?

Computer Key - Porn

When I started in this field, sex addiction was not a common place term.  Therapists who treated sex addiction were not that prevalent and you never heard about sex addiction on the news.  Today, it is a different story.  You hear the term sex addiction all the time, bandied about in the news every time you hear about a celebrity sex scandal.  Therapists who treat sex addiction, whether specifically trained to do so or not, are much more common now as well.

The same goes for pornography addiction.  For some reason, this feels less stigmatizing to many.  Again, there are now large numbers of therapists who treat pornography addiction (whether trained to or not) and there are also many new programs popping up to help men deal with their pornography addictions.  These are often programs not run by a therapist or affiliated with a 12-step program but instead created and run by independent agents or religious institutions.

As the visibility of pornography addiction grows, the type of clients we have coming to the office have changed.  In the beginning, over 8 years ago, the (predominantly) men who were coming in to address problems with pornography were men who had struggled for most of their lives with pornography use.  They were watching more than they wanted to. They couldn’t stop.  They were experiencing serious consequences in their work and relationships or even with the law as a consequence of their pornography use.  These were men who were what I would diagnose as pornography (or sex as a broad moniker) addicts.

Today, many of the men who are coming in with self-diagnosed pornography or sex addictions are men who look at some pornography.  They don’t look at it necessarily a lot (maybe one or two times a week or less).  They don’t look at it for hours and hours on end.  They don’t look at anything illegal.  They often don’t look at any pornography that is more “hard core.”  Often their pornography use is causing a conflict in their relationship.  These are not men that I would diagnose with a pornography addiction, but they call themselves pornography addicts.

This brings me to the title of this writing.  Are these men who come in pornography addicts?  Or are they men who are experiencing an erotic conflict?

An erotic conflict is experienced by a person who is engaging in (or even fantasizing about) a sexual behavior that conflicts with his or her moral values or religious values.  For example, a person who is attracted to sex with the same sex might experience an erotic conflict because their religious beliefs tell them that same sex attraction is wrong.  Their behavior conflicts with their religious beliefs.  A person who is using escorts might be experiencing an erotic conflict because breaking the law is against their personal moral values.  A man who is watching pornography occasionally, a few times a month, might feel as though he has a sexual addiction or pornography addiction because his religious beliefs tell him that lust and pornography are bad.  Therefore, he equates any use of pornography with addiction.

Though there is no DSM-V definition of sexual addiction or pornography addiction, we can extrapolate the criteria from drug and alcohol and gambling addictions (Use disorders in the DSM-V).  This means that someone who is a pornography addict would experience at least two of the following issues:  watching pornography more often than they intended and for longer periods of time than intended; an inability to stop watching pornography; spending a lot of time creating opportunities to watch pornography, crave pornography use; fail to fulfil obligations at work, home or school due to using pornography; continuing to use pornography even after interpersonal problems resulting from use; social isolation due to pornography use; the need for more pornography or more intense pornography to get the same feeling and difficulties when they try to stop using pornography or can’t access it.

Here is my plea to clinicians and to society as well:

CAN WE PLEASE BE MORE DISCERNING IN DIAGNOSING SEXUAL AND PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION?

What happens when we over diagnose pornography addiction?

  1. We never get to the underlying issue.  If someone is not actually a pornography addict and is experiencing an erotic conflict, often they never get to the root of the issue.  Often, they work a 12-step abstinence model and condemn any experiences of lust as bad or problematic.  This can place moral good or bad judgements on sexual behavior that can cause more psychological harm if the client continues to engage in the behavior.  It can shame the normal biological process of attraction by naming it lust to be removed from the person’s being.  It can also prevent the client from learning about healthy sexuality and what truly arouses and attracts them.  Ultimately, they often never work through the conflict between their body and their beliefs to any healthy resolution.
  2. We cause more shame. Though being a pornography addict is less shameful perhaps than it used to be, being named a sex addict or pornography addict is often a very shameful experience for a person.  This shame must be worked through when the person truly does have an addiction.  When the person does not, the label is often causing more shame and possibly isolation than is necessary.  Often this adds to the “I’m a bad person” thoughts the pornography consumer might have, simply for looking at some pornography.
  3. We trivialize sexual addiction. The therapeutic community and often the public press hotly debate whether sexual or pornography addiction are “real.”  The con side often uses the argument that those who support the idea of sexual addiction are religious conservatives who are condemning normal sexual practices.  When someone with an erotic conflict (often based on religious beliefs) is diagnosed with an addiction, this reinforces the argument that we are trying to morally dictate sexual practices and label them addictions.

My goal here is not to condemn or judge someone’s religious or moral beliefs.  We all have our own set of values that we would like to live by.  My plea is that we, both clinicians and consumers, really look at the behavior.  Is the client presenting in your office who uses pornography an addict or someone with an erotic conflict?  The treatment is different. If they have an erotic conflict the work is to process through the beliefs, sexuality and the conflict to come to a resolution that fits the client’s moral and personal compass.  If the client is an addict, the treatment will likely follow a more traditional addiction model with 12 step attendance, abstinence from certain behaviors and recovery work.

I leave you with my plea again:  CAN WE PLEASE BE MORE DISCERNING IN DIAGNOSING SEXUAL AND PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION?

 

Dr. Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.

Get Paid to Watch Porn: Cryptocurrency and the Pornography Industry

cryptocurrency-predictions-2018-914087

If you are like me, you have heard of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, but know very little about it.  We see newspaper articles about bitcoin values going up and down and articles about how digital currency is going to eventually take over traditional banking.  Other than headlines, most of us don’t pay much attention.  However, as with any new technology, the pornography industry pays attention.

First, here is a 30 second, non-technical review of cryptocurrency.  Cryptocurrency is a decentralized digital cash system, that is kept secure by strong cryptography.  Transactions made with cryptocurrency are irreversible, untraceable to a person’s real-world identity, fast, global, secure and permissionless.  The use of this technology offers a way to pay for things or transfer money that is under the radar of governments and can be kept anonymous from a person’s credit history, spouse, etc.

Cryptocurrency can be used to pay for things but there is also a growing industry of ICOs or initial coin offerings.  ICOs are basically crowdfunding projects.  A company puts forth a white paper with their idea and then asks for investment.  The hope is that the project comes to fruition, and the coin will increase in value.

Why on earth am I talking to you (poorly at that) about cryptocurrency?  Well, it has entered the pornography industry.  On April 17, Pornhub announced that it now accepts the cryptocurrency Verge as a payment option.    The use of Verge allows a pornhub users to buy a subscription to the site in an anonymous fashion.  For those who don’t want anyone, including their credit card company, to know they have purchased a subscription to a pornography site, the use of cryptocurrency is the perfect option.

Another foray into the crypto/pornography world is the Vice Industry Token.  This new token is currently in development but has completed its ICO.  The token wants to take advantage of the attention economy.  The premise is that they wish to remonetize the industry around viewer desire and not that of paid content sponsors.  In this model, tokens will be generated and distributed based on user engagement.  All parties in the process will be rewarded.  Content producers will be rewarded for creating content that gets a lot of viewer attention and viewers will be rewarded.  The company has trademarked the phrase “Get paid to watch porn.”  See the white paper here 

The users of this system will then be able to pay for further pornographic content with the VIT tokens that they have earned by watching pornography.  Basically, someone can watch pornography (which they likely would do already) and earn digital money to do so.  They could then use that digital money to buy more adult content.

For those individuals who struggle with pornography addiction, this is something that adds even more incentive to watch pornography.  Now they can get paid to do something they already do.  For those individuals who are choosing to hide their pornography use from a spouse or partner, this offers a greater opportunity for secrecy.  There are no credit card statements to find.  There is no missing money.  There is an increased amount of anonymity which is one of the three accelerators of problematic internet behavior:  anonymity, accessibility and affordability.

 

Dr. Weeks is the Owner and Director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services, specializing in problematic sexual behavior, and treatment and evaluation of cybersex offenders.

What Young Women’s Experiences with Sexting can tell us about Compliance, Coercion and Consent

The #MeToo movement has brought much needed attention to the experiences of women, of any age, of sexual abuse and harassment.  If you look behind the sensational headlines, the movement has sparked a much-needed conversation about consent.  I have previously written about how we teach consent in our practice in a blog on the topic.  The #METOO movement combined with some recent research published in the Sexuality Research and Social Policy journal can help us shed some light on how young women navigate sexuality and consent in the digital realm.

Dr. Sara Thomas recently published a research study in the journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy that looked at how young women handled pressure to send them a nude or semi-nude photograph from a peer.  Dr. Thomas’ study analyzed stories from teenagers about their experiences of digital drama.  She then identified three main dilemmas that young women experience in relation to sexual photographs.  These were interpersonal negotiations, consequences and self-concept.  She then identified six different categories of behavior for how women were induced to send nude photographs.  These were desire, personal gain, asked, relational scripts, bombardment and coercion.

One of the first dilemmas faced by a young woman is the decision of whether to send a photograph.  The study found that 2/3 of young women reported that they engaged in this ongoing struggle to decide if they should send a picture, if so to whom and when should they do this.  When a woman decided to send a nude photograph, the motivations ranged from it being consensual to giving in to pressure or threats from the person asking for the picture.

The young women in this study knew that if they chose to send a nude picture there could be consequences.  These consequences ranged from the picture being seen by people they did not want to see (mass distribution) to social ostracism, rumor spreading, legal consequences, emotional distress and getting in trouble with parents.  The study found that the biggest concern was the possibility of the image being spread without consent.

Why do young women send nude or sexual photographs?  In this study, only 8% of the young women sent the photograph because they wanted to.  If they didn’t want to send the image, why did they?

Compliance:  The study found that many young women were sending nude images because they wanted to please the person asking for the image or because they wanted to avoid negative consequences from the young men that were asking for the images.  One of the troubling findings from the study was the tacit nature of the compliance by the young girls.  The young women justified the compliance by saying that they liked the young man who was asking for the image.

“..compliance was frequently accompanied by an assertion they liked the young man who requested them.  These stories did not express coercion by the asker, but they also did not express a desire to send them.  Rather the decision to send was a compliant “so I did” to a male-initiated request for a photograph.”

Coercion:  The majority of the women in the study experienced some form of coercion.  The level of this coercion ranged from milder “If you loved me” statements from the young man requesting the image to more intense forms coercion.  When a woman was unsure of sending an image, they reported feeling guilty that their partner questioned their love by not sending a nude image.

Many of the women had experiences of coercion that were more intense.  The study found that some young men pressured, threatened, got angry or cut off contact with the young woman in order to try to obtain nude images.  The women also experienced threats of blackmail.  Some of these women were blackmailed into sending more images after they sent a first image.  The blackmail threat was often that the images would be mass distributed.  The young women who experienced these situations didn’t feel like they had any options and that they had to send the images.

Can young women refuse?  The answer to this is yes.  In the study about 30% of the women refused to send a sexual image.  Of those 30%, 79% of those women faced consequences for not sending images.  Partners would get angry.  Relationships would end.  Based on the consequences, several of the young women reported they ended up sending images to the young man who requested them.  Only 12 women in this study refused to send nude images and did not experience any negative consequences for holding their boundary.

What does this study show us?  In this study, 25 of 314 young women engaged in sexting with a partner because they truly wanted to, and the experiences were devoid of compliance or coercion.  This means that most of these young women engaged in sexting that was truly without consent.  Their behavior was induced by compliance or coercion.

We, as parents, teachers, educators, need to do a better job at many things.  First, we need to teach all young people the true meaning of consent.  We need to empower young women to say “no” to coercion and to feel strong enough to not feel the need to comply to an unwanted request.  We need to give young women access to resources to help them make decisions about their sexuality.

The young women in this study did not seek adult help but turned to peers for advice.  They often cited fearing an adults’ response as why they didn’t talk to parents or another adult in their life.  As adults, we also need to create an environment where our children feel safe to come to us with their challenging dilemmas and we need to react calmly and lovingly.

Thomas, Sara.  (2017) “What do I do?”:  Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please check out our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

 

Book Review: Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand

A recovery book by actor and comedian Russell Brand may not be what you might be expecting in the way of a book review from an addiction therapist, but we should all have an open mind, right?

I started keeping a peripheral eye on Mr. Brand when I began focusing my clinical work on sexual addiction.  Mr. Brand made it very public (writing about it in several books) that he attended the Keystone Extended Care Unit in Chester, Pennsylvania for his in patient sexual addiction treatment.  This is what put him on my radar. I have friends and colleagues who work there and have referred many clients to treatment at Keystone ECU.  When his new book about recovery came out, I thought, “why not?”

Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions has been a pleasant surprise from the get go.  This book is a 12-step book.  The book takes the reader through the entire 12 step process, step by step.  Russell shares his own story of recovery, the good and the bad, in a very relatable way.  He also, very openly, shares his own struggles with the steps.  He has struggled with the concept of God or higher power which is a huge road block for many people who attend or think to attend 12 step meetings.  He addresses his own self-centeredness, inability to ask for help and isolation, which is very relatable to anyone who has dealt with addiction of any kind.

In addition to the book, on his website, www.russellbrand.com, he provides a supplement to the book.  He provides the reader with his own questions and worksheets to work the steps.  I have read many 12 step books and I honestly feel as though these are some of the easiest to follow and real guides I have ever seen.  They are absent the preachy vibe that can come with some 12 step worksheets.  They are also rather blunt, which is a style I prefer.  Honestly, I have printed these out and given them to clients who I know struggle with the higher power concept of the 12 steps or have some other issues with their experiences of the people in the 12 step rooms.

Of course, this is a book by Russell Brand, so it is full of obscenity.  It is not for the reader who objects to a multitude of f-bombs in every chapter.  This is part of why I really like this book.  It is real.  It is raw.  It is what actually happens when a person goes through the 12-step program, not a sanitized version of the process that makes many people feel that recovery is unattainable.

The 12th step of AA states that “After having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in our own affairs.”  This book is Russell’s 12th step.  It is a great 12th step and one of the most enjoyable recovery books I have read in a really long time.

 

For more information on Dr. Weeks clinical work please see our website at www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com 

 

 

Pedophile: What’s in a Label?

The news is awash with reports of famous men, actors, directors, and politicians whose victims are coming forward to report the sexual abuse and sexual harassment they have been subject to at the hands of these people. I applaud the bravery of each and every victim who has come forward to share their painful story. It takes an immense amount of courage to break through years of shame and silence to confront one’s abuser. Bravo. I am glad that these men and women’s voices are being heard and hopefully they can find some sort of justice or closure.

My writing today is not for those brave men and women but for the media. As someone works with sex offenders every day I have a pet peeve. That pet peeve, which sometimes gets me in hot water in facebook posts, is the fact that people throw around the word pedophile every time someone is found to have abused a minor. Besides frequently being inaccurate, it sends a message that pedophiles are the only people who abuse children. It generates fear. If we are truly going to protect children from sexual abuse by adults, we need to spread accurate information and create effective prevention plans.

So, let’s talk about attraction. When we specifically are looking at age, attraction is clinically categorized three ways.

Pedophile: A person who is attracted to PRE-PUBSECENT children. Doesn’t matter the gender of the child. The attraction is to the lack of sexual development.

Hebephile: A person who is attracted to pubescent children. Again, gender does not matter. The attraction is to a child who is in early adolescence and has signs of sexual development.

Teleiophile: A person who is attracted to adults. This attraction is to fully sexually developed adults.

A person does not have to fit into just one category. There are people who are what we call fixed pedophiles. This means they are only attracted to pre-pubescent children. Other people are attracted to several categories of sexual development. I work with many men who are attracted to pre-pubescent children, pubescent minors AND adults. They do not have a fixed attraction but find all ages of people to be sexually arousing.

The next piece of this puzzle is that ATTRACTION DOES NOT EQUAL ACTION. Many people who have a pedophilic or hebephilic attraction do not ever have any sexual contact with minors. They live with this attraction but have the awareness to know that they cannot act on these urges and they can inhibit any behavior toward minors to whom they may be attracted. In the clinical world, we call these folks non-offending pedophiles.

In Germany, there is a great program called Project Dunkelfeld that offers free treatment to any person who identifies as attracted to minors to help ensure they do not act on those attractions. This project runs ads on buses or billboards and runs public service announcements on television. These folks are getting prevention right.

The next piece of the abuse puzzle is that people offend against children for many reasons, only one of which may be sexual attraction. There are many, many reasons why adults sexually abuse children. There are too many to go into here (future post on this topic forthcoming). Only one of the reasons a person sexually abuses a child is attraction. I have worked with many contact sexual offenders against children who were not sexually aroused to children. This may make no sense at all to someone who doesn’t work in this field, but it is true. Why else might someone abuse a child? Power, control, emotional identification with children, using a child as replacement spouse (frequently seen in incest), and/or antisociality to name a few.

As I am sitting here writing this, I am trying to determine why the misuse of the term pedophile pokes my buttons. I think that if we throw around the term pedophile to label anyone who sexually abuses a child we can put them in a metaphorical box. It makes it easy to put abusers into a category and then not think about it as much. We can think, “oh watch out for pedophiles, they abuse children”. Even if it were true, how do you identify one? They look just like you and me and act just like you and me. There is no way to know someone’s sexual preference by looking at them. Labeling gives people a false sense of security that children are abused by people in this category and not by anyone else.

If we put child molesters in this lump category we diminish the complexity of the issue. It is not just about attraction to minors. The people perpetrating the abuse most often are not “the others.” They are most frequently family members or close friends of the family of the children. They are frequently people in positions of power who have the trust of the child and the child’s parents. Abusers are, most often, people that know you and your child. (the exception here being cyber cases).

If we are going to truly protect children from sexual abuse, we need to make sure that everyone has accurate information. Creating a fear reaction to a clinical label does nothing to enhance child safety. What can you do to enhance your child’s safety? Learn the truth about the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Create an open and safe relationship with your child so that you can talk to them about sex, sexuality, sexual boundaries. Learn what grooming is and help them to identify behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, so they can come to you immediately. Arm yourself with knowledge, not fear.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of SATS, an out-patient program that treats sexual offenders, problematic sexual behavior and trauma.

Her book The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about pornography and cybersex in the digital age is available on amazon.

Three Things to Teach your Child About Safe Sexting

Sexting

If we choose to face reality, we know that teen sexting has become a normative part of adolescent culture.  Of course, not all adolescents are doing it, but many are sexting.  What we learned from the years of the “JUST SAY NO” campaign and more years of research is that preaching abstinence just doesn’t work.  If we want to protect children from the darker side of sexting, we need to educate and inform them about the practice, so they can make their own, hopefully well thought out, decisions.

What are the tenants of Safe Sexting?

  1. You are responsible for your own safety.
  2. Know the risk
  3. Know how to protect yourself

You are responsible for your own safety

 The digital world can be a risky place.  Aware parents will have talked to their children about online sexual activity and perhaps filtered or monitored devices such as phones or laptops.  However, no filter or monitor can truly protect a child from the risks of online sexual behavior.  Ultimately, your child is responsible for his or her own behavior online.  What they do or do not post, text, snap, etc.  is their own responsibility.

To help your child be more proactive about their online safety, here are some things to think about and talk to them about.  Before you send a picture or post, stop and count to ten.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really want to send this picture or video?
  2. Do I feel pressured to take or send this image?
  3. Do I trust that the person I send this to will never share this image without my consent?

It is very true that many children, particularly girls, feel a great deal of pressure to participate in taking and sending sexual images.  There are also online predators who will groom, intimidate or threaten a young person to convince them to take pictures.  In these instances, there is no consent.  Coercion is never consent.

If your child chooses to engage in consensual sexting with a peer, they should truly want to take the image without feeling any pressure to do so.  They should also trust that, no matter what, the person they send the image to will not share the image.   If all of these parameters are met, then the sexting is consensual and if your child takes and sends an image, they are assuming responsibility for their actions.

Know the Risk

 Even in the case of consensual teen sexting there is a lot of risk.  In order to engage in safe sexting, the person doing it (adult or minor) needs to know the risk involved with the behavior.  So what are the risks?

Sexting as a minor may be illegal.  Every state has a different law regarding minors producing and sending illicit or sexual images.  The punishments for the behavior also vary from state to state.  In some cases, a child can be the producer and distributor of child pornography as well as the victim of the same crime.  Some states have decriminalized consensual sexting between two minors.  Know the law in your state and share that with your child.

Another risk is that someone you do not want to see your image may see your sexual image.  This is non-consensual sexting.  You may have sent a sexual image to someone with whom you are in a relationship.  This may have been consensual at the time.  Then, something goes wrong in the relationship, and you are not together.  Revenge porn is a real thing.  If the person you were dating changes their feelings or gets mad, they have an image that they can send out to every other person in high school or post to a revenge pornography site.  Anytime you send a sexual image there is always a risk that someone you do not want to see it will see it.  It is also possible that many, many people may see the image.

Protect Yourself

 In this arena of uncertainty, where something can go viral in the blink of an eye, how do you protect yourself?  Here are some guidelines to help your child protect themselves.

If you choose to consensually share a sexual image with someone, only send an image or video that you would not mind someone else seeing.  Are you ok with just anyone seeing you nude or engaged in a sexual act with someone?  If you are not okay with that, and choose to send an image, perhaps send a picture in a bathing suit or underwear.  I don’t want this to be read as advocating for teens sexting but for those who choose to do so, to send an image that the sender would not mind any and all to see.

If you choose to send a sexual image, only send an image to someone you trust.  Sending an image is a great act of trust as you lose control of that image the moment it is sent.  You need to truly and completely trust that the person you send it to won’t someday get mad at you and send it to all of his or her friends or post it online without your consent.

How do you know who you can trust?  To answer this, I will borrow from Brene Brown’s concept Anatomy of Trust otherwise known as BRAVING.  This can be applied to you or another.

  • Boundaries – The person you may send this image to always respects your  boundaries
  • Accountability – The person you may send this image to always owns their mistakes,  apologizes and makes amends
  • Integrity –   The person you may send this image to always acts with integrity, does what is right instead of what is easy or fun.
  • Reliability –  The person you may send this image to is reliable.  They always mean what they say and say what they do.
  • Vault-  The person you may send an image to NEVER shares things that are not his or hers to share.  They don’t gossip and they keep confidences.
  • Non-Judgment- The person you may send this to will not judge you.
  • Generosity-   The person you may send this image to will assume the most generous thoughts about your actions and intentions.

If the person you are thinking about sending a sexual image to does not meet the core pieces of the anatomy of trust, you may wish to rethink sending him or her a sexual image.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that my intention here is not to encourage or glamorize the practice of sexting among adolescents.  My point is to be realistic.  If teens are going to engage in sexting we need to empower them with accurate information and guidance about how to do so safely.  Talking to your child about Safe Sexting arms them with information to make their own informed decisions.

For more information on how to talk to your child please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education: how to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.

For more information on Dr. Weeks, Please see our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

Girls and Sexting

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

I am writing to you today from the annual conference of ATSA, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.  I come every year to ensure I stay on top of all the latest research and to make sure that the methods we use to treat people at SATS are state of the art and evidence based.

Each year, in addition to traditional talks, there are poster presentations.  Today, Marion Desfachelles, a Ph.D. student at the University of Montreal, presented a poster on her research on girls and sexting.

Because this research is from Canada, I will take a moment to explain how Canadians handle teenage sexting.  Sexting is divided into two categories, Primary and Secondary.  Primary sexting is defined as sending or receiving sexually explicit content in a private context.  Secondary sexting is defined as distributing the image or video to the public.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this year that to establish an intimate photo exception to the juvenile pornography laws.  This exception allows “two youths, who engage in lawful sexual activity, to consensually record their own lawful sexual activity as long as that recording is made or possessed for their personal use.”

As most of the research on secondary sexting is focused on boys, Ms. Desfachelles wanted to look at how girls engage in primary or secondary sexting.  To do this, she looked at the arrest records of 27 girls who were arrested or suspected to be involved in cases of juvenile pornography.

What did the study find?  Girls are sometimes the primary sexter and the secondary victim, meaning a girl may have taken an image for a partner but it was then distributed outside the context of that relationship.  Girls also distributed sexual imagery to others.  An interesting finding was that the girls did acknowledge that sending these images would be hurtful to the victims, but the girls thought that the victims of the secondary sexting were responsible for the situation.

The study found three main motivations for secondary sexting.  The most common motivation was that of revenge or hurt.  The other two motivations seen were goodwill and fun, meaning peer pressure.  Boys continue to be most frequently the originators of the secondary sexting, but girls sometimes start the process and definitely participate in the secondary sexting.

We know that there is significant emotional damage to the victim of secondary sexting.  Prevention campaigns often focus on not sexting at all.  The author suggests that, as sexting is becoming a more normative behavior for teens, the prevention efforts be moved to focus on prevention of secondary sexting.

Help teens understand that they should keep something that was sent in the context of a relationship private.  Teach teens about consent and that consent also applies to distribution of images sent with the expectation of privacy.

As always, parents should be talking to their children about sexting.  We also need to expand our discussions about how, if their child does engage in sexting, they can do so in a safe and respectful manner and to understand the risks involved in sending an explicit image to another person.

For more information on the effect of sexting on children, please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.

Parents – Get Your Kids off Adult Dating Apps

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I started engaging in prevention and education work as a direct result of my experiences working as a forensic psychologist in the field of sexual addiction and sexual offending. Despite my efforts and the efforts of many others more well-known than myself, we continue to see an increase in cybersex issues with teens.

This month, I have had several new forensic cases involving teens and dating apps. These new cases involved adult men who were found to be having sexual contact with minors that were met via the adult dating app Grindr.

First, let’s talk about dating apps. The most well-known adult dating apps are Tinder and Grindr. Tinder is used more for those who are attracted to the opposite sex and Grindr is targeted at the gay male audience. Other names you need to know: Jack’d, Scruff, Adam 4 Adam, Growlr, Plenty of Fish, Ok Cupid.

Why do you need to know about these apps? Because under age teens are on these apps, using them and meeting with adults for sexual encounter. Any and all of these apps are for people over the age of 18. They specifically state in their information that you cannot be under 18 (or 21 in some places) and use the app. The apps are for adults. The problem is that often all you must do is enter a birthdate or check a box that affirms you are at least 18 years of age and there is no age verification. Anyone under the age of 18 can do the math and figure out what birth year they need to enter to comply. If someone mutually swipes and connects with your child, they will text or chat to see if they are compatible and arrange a hook up or meeting. Sometimes, during these chats, the child may disclose that they are under the age of 18. Many times, they do not.

There are two ways your child could end up having sex with an adult via an adult dating app:

  1. They could be targeted by an adult who is specifically seeking a young or young-looking man or woman on the app. However, there is an assumption that all on the app are of legal age. During the chat, the child could disclose that they are underage. Obviously, at this point, the right thing for anyone to do is to discontinue the conversation with the minor and NOT meet them, connect with them and surely not have sex with them. However, some people will ignore what is right and hook up with the minor for sex. In this case, the person meeting the minor has full knowledge that they are underage when they are hooking up with them and knows this is illegal.

  1. A child could go on an adult dating app and create a profile that says they are at least 18 years old. They could engage with men or women on line and meet up with them for sexual encounters. The child could never disclose that they are a minor to the person they are meeting for sex. Therefore, the person who is meeting them for sex is under the assumption that they are at least 18 and they are not knowingly having sex with a minor.

What can you do if you are a parent?

  1. Talk to your child. Talk to them about dating apps, hook up apps and any social networking apps. Ask what they use and how they use it. Ask if they are on the sites. Discuss with them the inappropriateness of being a minor and being on an adult dating site. I have had clients tell me they were on these apps when they were as young as 13 years old.

  1. If necessary, block your child’s access to these sites. I am not usually a fan of blocking sites completely, but in these cases, where there are such serious risks, I say, block your child’s access until they are the legal age to use the apps.

  1. Be open to your child’s curiosity about sex and sexuality. Many of these issues occur on same sex dating sites. This is likely because adolescent men are exploring their sexuality and may not be out, feel safe doing so in their school or social network and/or have no one to talk to about their questions and feelings. Be that safe person for your child to talk to and help them find appropriate resources to answer their questions.

What can you do if you use a dating site?

  1. If you find out someone you are talking to is under 18, stop talking to them IMMEDIATELY. Report their use of the app to the administrators of the app per the app’s instructions. DO NOT MEET THE UNDERAGE USER.

  1. If you think someone is younger than 18, ask for some form of ID to verify their age. Ask for a driver’s license. Yes, someone can get a fake ID If they are underage, but you need to do this to protect yourself and not make a life altering bad decision.

Does the app bear any responsibility when a minor is preyed upon in an adult dating app or ends up having sexual encounters with an adult? The answer to this is, NO. They do not. This has been challenged in court and the apps have won, meaning that the stated age requirements and acknowledgment of the user of the rules removes them from any liability in these cases. I would urge the makers of these apps to do more to try to remove under age users from their platforms.

As always, the key to prevention is awareness and communication. Talk to your child!

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.