Trigger Warning: Sextortion, Victim Blaming, Self-harm.
Being a girl and a teenager in this day and age is hard. It is tough. It is incredibly challenging as the teenage years call for the cliché love and the desperate yearning for validation. Movies like the 'Notebook' and 'Ten things I hate about you' just further fuel the hormones to find the one - but we all know it's just teenage infatuation.
Sometimes, when you finally find that connection with someone, it might not be how you imagined it. The need for validation or to be liked can mean that that connection can linger on well past its used date and may cause an increase in low self-esteem and self-worth, which further fuels the need to be told that you're beautiful, intelligent, or just who they are looking for.
That search for connection and validation made Roxy Longworth in the UK the target of sextortion.
In an interview given to This Morning on ITV, Roxy explained how, at the tender age of 13, she was coerced into sending illicit images of herself to a boy four years older than her.
Roxy was the average 13-year-old girl who, like others, used social media and her phone to engage in conversation in the hope of building new friendships and relationships. However, this innocent use of social media and her device took a turn when she was encouraged to send nude pictures of herself to a boy she spoke to online.
However, the nude pictures didn't just appear on this boy's device for his satisfaction. He sent them to a host of Roxy's peers and people she didn't know. A message from one of the boy's friends showing her the photos he now has and a phone call from her school confirmed that her images were spreading like wildfire.
This boy took advantage of her vulnerability, pressuring her constantly with threats of spreading rumours about her until he finally coerced her into 'doing what everyone else is doing. She felt helpless, and when in search of assistance to help end this nightmare, Roxy and her mum turned to her school. And you know what they did? They asked her to write a reflective essay on what she had done and what she had done.
A school, the place supposed to be a foundation of values and morals, a place of safety for so many students, turned her down and guilted her over what had unfolded. I would naturally turn to my school for help if this happened to me, but I have to be honest; reading this story makes me question this. I wonder if I would feel supported enough to be able to present myself to my school in the case of something as serious as Roxy's experience and not be expected to explain myself.
How is it possible that Roxy, the victim in this particular case, was blamed?
How is it even humane that they are to blame when a child's dignity is violated?
And what happened to the boy in Roxy's story? The one who initiated the illegal sharing of nude images of a 13-year-old girl?
The boy who pressured Roxy time and time again to send the images.
The boy threatened to make up nasty rumours and ruin her reputation.
The boy said the pictures were just for himself but decided to send them around like fliers for the world to see.
They were let go, free of sanction.
But Roxy was left to think about her actions, and she was shamed and left to feel that the world was against her. How is our society so blatant in the way we treat our victims? We should be the shoulder that victims can lean on, extend our helping arms to those who fall into the pit of sextortion, and punish the deceitful where necessary.
Our society often insists that 'with age comes maturity,' but that doesn't seem to be taken into consideration with the perpetrators in a situation like Roxy's. Is it because we are becoming too familiar with stories of sextortion that we, as teenage girls, are expected to know not to do it? Is it because cyber misogyny is just an expectation when a girl enters the realm of social media?
Should we know better?
All our lives, we are brought up to believe that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. This is rubbish. And every child that has been told this now needs to unlearn it.
Words DO hurt. Words have POWER. Words can make a person question who they are, what they believe, and how they should act. And words online are permanent. It's these words that made Roxy think that she had no choice. These initial words eventually created a tormenting ripple and saw Roxy drop out of school and now face severe mental health issues.
Does this happen to every girl that falls into the pit of sextortion? No, but it is increasingly common. They are often seen as the 'bad girls' who distract and lure the boys or just being attention-seekers. It's heart-wrenching to see girls such as Roxy being manipulated or made to feel this way at such a young age.
Entering adolescence challenges a person's identity and makes them vulnerable to the world. As a 17-year-old, it pains me to see other girls my age being shamed and ridiculed for sextortion, as more often than not, it happens due to the extortionist being assertive and issuing threats. The fragile and naive minds fall into the bubble to satisfy the needs and want of others, and trust me, finding your true identity and being seen and heard is a huge thing for teenagers.
While watching or reading about Roxy's experience, you might wonder, "why couldn't she just not send the images?" or "she should be old enough to understand."
To that, I say - she was a child. A child. Children make mistakes – it is how we learn.
At the age of 13, children are still learning the basics of algebra, and they're not yet equipped with the life experience or coping mechanisms to help them deal with threatening and high-pressure situations. To Roxy, the assurance the boy gave her seemed truthful; she had no reason not to trust him. And the load that her school then placed on top of the shame and guilt she was already feeling would have been enough to make her young mind implode and her trust completely disappear. 13 is way too young to feel cynicism towards the world.
In situations like this, please do not blame the victim; they are already doing that to themselves. Instead, provide them with support and strength, as they need it more now than you can imagine. Reassure them that if they share a photo that is deemed intimate in nature and someone shares or uses it against them in any way, it is safe to speak up. If they speak up, you can help them. There is nothing to fear or need to be ashamed of and no judgment, only support from you through all available means.
Roxy is just one of the millions of girls whose vulnerability is used as a lever to satisfy the needs of others. She is one of the millions who is often sidelined and victim-blamed. She is one of the millions who contemplate self-harm when their most intimate selves are publicised.
As a society, we need to do more, and we need to do better.
About the Author - Arya 17yrs
I am an individual who enjoys meeting new people and, most notably, making a difference that helps our ever-so-expanding world. Being an avid social media user has enabled me to be a part of our digital community, a norm in our society. Therefore, making our collective digital interaction more safe and secure is one of my many interests that drove my passion for being a part of Safe on Social.