In the field Sexting Module

In the field: Testing, testing…

I (Linda) am an office-based member of staff at dlalanathi. I see my chief role as supporting the work done in the field by my colleagues, working with them to offer processes that are relevant and timely in responding to psycho-social needs they encounter daily. Over the past months it has become more and more apparent that we need to add online safety to our repertoire of child protection processes. No matter the socio-economic status of a community, larger numbers of children and teens are gaining access to smart phones and the internet.
The internet is beautiful, the internet is terrible. Just like a huge Metropolitan city such as Johannesburg. The City is dazzling in beauty and yet also in parts, terribly dangerous. We would never allow a child unfamiliar with such a large space to wonder around alone and unsupervised, so why let them loose on the internet alone and with no “directions”, boundaries or supervision?
Enter the first phase of design; reading and reading and more reading around the topic of children, teens and online safety, the impact of technology-assisted sexual abuse, and the impact of excessive time online. Reading and research lead me to Emma Sadlier and Lizzie Harrison’s book “Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones: A Teenager’s Online Survival Guide.” I decided to design a module on sexting (sex+texting); when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked pictures or videos of themselves with others.
With the module designed, I set out to test it; with a group of women leading a child participation group, with a school LRC (leadership group), and with an all-female out of school youth group. What a joy! To be in the community and meet so many people I usually only hear about via my colleagues. And to first-hand test something that I have designed. I love the insight and experience it gave me. One of the biggest challenges in design and testing is the feedback post-testing – most often fieldwork staff are so much in the non-stop action that there is precious little time to sit and feedback how it went, what worked and what didn’t. The pleasure of being there in person and seeing the participation, and the process unfold for myself was lovely. I really got a feel what didn’t work and an inkling for what would be better.
Besides some of the technical learning that happened for me, here are some key things I took away from my experience:
  • Sexting per se between children and teens in the community we work with is not a common practice at present.
  • Sexting is a made-up English word and is tricky to translate into isiZulu.
  • The passing on of pornographic photos and videos generated by the porn industry via WhatsApp is a far more common practice in this community. (As opposed to nude selfie pictures sent between two people in a relationship with one another). The average age of first exposure to full on porn is 11 years old in South Africa – unfortunately this statistic seems to bear out from all I heard.
  • It is vitally important to start talking to caregivers about the beauty and the dangers of the internet, they need to be on board, placing boundaries and protection around their children.
  • Some schools are telling caregivers that their children need to have smartphones in order to access the internet and enhance learning opportunities. These same schools have not necessarily talked about online safety and safeguarding measures (And this concerns me greatly).
  • It’s a really tricky tightrope when you’re aware you have some children who are extremely sheltered and have never heard about pornography and now you’re bandying the term about, and then some children who have heard, seen and possibly done it all.
  • Re-design needs to happen, with a focus on how one can conduct a healthy relationship with the internet so that one’s reputation and retina are not damaged and the soul not permanently scarred after a few years of internet use.
  • I am delighted to go back to the drawing board and re-think the design of this, it means that the feedback has been real, and hopefully I have ‘heard’ correctly as I have listened and engaged with people.
Most importantly, I learned to get to know your ‘audience’ or end user – after all, they are the reason we are here.