Relationships & Technology

Cyberbullying | Sexting | Sex Trafficking | Sextortion | Get Help

In the age of the internet, we are constantly finding new ways to connect with people. Technology can make communication easier in some ways, but can also present challenges when trying to maintain healthy relationships. The internet provides a layer of anonymity that can allow people to cause harm to others online.

Please consider the impact of your communications online and the safety of online spaces. Having a balance between in-person and online communication is key to maintaining a healthy social circle.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a pattern of unwanted, negative, and/or aggressive behavior that takes place online or by electronic devices such as cell phones. This can include sending, posting, or sharing negative, mean or harmful content about another person, hoping to cause that person shame or embarrassment. Cyberbullying can also lead to in-person bullying and sometimes even criminal activity.

Unfortunately, there have been incidents of youth being so severely bullied online that they have taken their own lives as a result of the overwhelming humiliation they feel from having sensitive, personal information shared online without their consent. It’s very important to be mindful of the impact of your actions in online spaces, as online behavior often has real-world impacts.

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, please reach out to a trusted adult and/or organizations such as Right to Be.

To learn more about cyberbullying, see the FAQs and Links below.

Sexting

Sexting refers to sharing digital messages that are sexual in nature, often involving sharing naked or sexual images with another person. In Rhode Island, sexting is a status offense, meaning it is an activity that is illegal for persons under age 18 to engage in, but does not result in criminal charges and is referred to Family Court. 

You may not think of the longer term consequences of sexting but it is important to think about before you hit “send”. Sending pictures is not reversible – you cannot get your pictures back once they are gone. And you have no control over people sharing your photos. Will the person you shared them with share them with others without your consent? Will they end up on social media? Will other friends, family or teachers see them eventually after they’ve been shared? All of these situations are very possible. The person you shared the pictures with may not even be the one to share them – someone else could get access to their phone, or their phone could be lost or stolen, and then a stranger could have access to share your pictures.

Don’t share naked or sexual images unprompted, and never share an image someone else has shared with you. Do not share naked or sexual images of yourself if you feel like you are being forced or are uncomfortable in any way. You have the right to say no to any form of sexual behavior, including sexting.

Sharing naked or sexual images of someone under 18 (a “minor”) goes beyond sexting and can be classified as “dissemination of child pornography” EVEN IF YOU BOTH AGREED and comes with serious criminal charges and potential sex offender registry.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. If Person 1 has Person 2 engage in sexual acts with others so that Person 1 benefits financially, Person 1 is engaging in sex trafficking; Person 2 is a victim of sex trafficking and should seek help from a trusted adult and/or community-based organization serving survivors. Rhode Island’s helpline is listed below

The commercial sexual exploitation of minors does not require force, fraud or coercion in order to be considered trafficking. Any interaction where a sexual act is performed for the exchange of an item of value, whether it’s actual money, shelter, food, drugs, clothing, electronics, etc, can be considered a commercial sex act.

Traffickers often use fear and intimidation to keep their victims under their control, but may also pretend to be a romantic partner of their victim. Victims of trafficking may have a hard time realizing how they are being abused, as the trauma of trafficking can also cause victims to form a bond with their trafficker. Warning signs of a trafficking victim can include missing school often, spending time with much older people, exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and having lots of new and expensive belongings.

To better understand how traffickers gain access to their victims, please see the section on “Sexual Grooming”.

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, please seek help from a trusted adult and/or community-based organization serving survivors. Rhode Island’s helpline is listed below. Incidents of trafficking of a minor should also be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Sextortion

Sextortion refers to a form of sexual exploitation where someone threatens or blackmails another person (the victim), often involving the sharing of sexually explicit images of the victim with the public or people in their lives. Often demands are made for more sexual content, sexual acts, or money.

Blackmailers may have used deceit or coercion to get initial sexual images, and continue to make threats and demands over multiple platforms. Red flags include asking for sexual images quickly and asking victims to move to a more private social media platform. Blackmailers may use information about victims online to gain their trust and form a connection. They may also use false identities online to appear more like a peer or a legitimate modeling agency.

Unfortunately, as technology advances, blackmailers may also threaten to create fake sexually explicit images featuring their victim using digital editing or steal existing, unshared images from devices or cloud storage.

If you or someone you know is being sextorted, please seek help from a trusted adult and/or community-based organization serving survivors. Rhode Island’s helpline is listed below. Incidents of trafficking of a minor should also be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

To learn more about unhealthy relationships, please see the section on Unhealthy, Toxic or Abusive Relationships.

Get Help

Get Help in Rhode Island:
In an emergency, please call 911

Rhode Island 24-hour Helpline:
1-800-494-8100

MORE HELP IN RHODE ISLAND

 

Get Help Outside of Rhode Island:
In an emergency, please call 911

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline:
Dial 988

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

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