Teenage girls sexually harassed

WA girls are being sexually harassed and blackmailed as part of a disturbing sex culture among teens, a leading children's advocate has warned.

In a series of workshops held in Perth schools last month, author Melinda Tankard Reist was inundated with teenage girls detailing their struggles with harassment, objectification and peer pressure - fuelled by social media.

Boys also opened up about the pressures of living in a culture that Ms Tankard Reist said "trained them in callous behaviour from early on".

Ms Tankard Reist, who runs the Collective Shout lobby group, said she was most surprised by the extent to which girls were being blackmailed into sending sexual images.

She said this trend was more prevalent in WA compared with other States she visited during her recent national tour.

"Young girls are asking, 'How do I deal with this boy? He says if I don't send him an image, he'll start a sexual rumour'," she said.

"Or they threaten to take a screenshot of their Facebook profile and put it on an image of a naked body and send it around.

"These are the things they have to negotiate in their daily lives. It was a consistent theme during my time in WA."

Ms Tankard Reist said her visit to WA was the "most affecting and profound" of her tour, and it prompted her to write a blog in which she praised the teens for opening up.

"At one co-ed private school, girls didn't want to leave the session and continued to talk through recess and even the next period, insisting they needed longer to discuss the issues concerning them," she wrote.

She was also surprised and impressed by the discussions she had with teenage boys - some also choosing to skip lunch or recess to talk longer.

Collective Shout WA co-ordinator Caitlin Roper recently recorded messages from WA teenage girls to their male peers.

Responses included "We weren't put on the Earth for your entertainment" and "Stop pressuring us for nude photos".

"We have this idea that women have more rights, options and possibilities then ever before, but girls are very disempowered and are feeling pressure to conform to the unattainable standards of beauty," Ms Roper said.

"It goes both ways - it is not about criticising boys but criticising the culture."

The growing issue of sexting has previously been highlighted by WA Police, who ahead of Leavers Week last year revealed they had received almost 350 complaints of teenagers taking or sharing provocative or sexual photographs, messages or videos.

Perth paediatrician Trevor Parry said it could be "very damaging" for teenagers to be blackmailed or exploited through sexting or social media.

He encouraged parents and students to be aware of the "Three Rs" - respect, restraint and responsibility. "The wider concern is the early sexualisation of children and what this does to their self-image. It is robbing them of childhood," he said.

The West Australian

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