Back in 2016 when I was doing the education round, I wrote a story about the Canberra schools caught up in the pornography ring that scandalised the nation. You remember, young men used the site to target specific schools and regions, with hundreds of individual names on the list. Girls were then "hunted" with members of the pornography ring contributing personal details in the search for a "win", the term used for posting a nude photo.
When the site was discovered by authorities, more than 2000 images had been posted since the group began operating in December 2015.
The site was shut down, but I dare a guess that it, or something like it, or several sites like it, are still up and running.
And you can be guaranteed that in suburban bedrooms all around Canberra, teenagers are sexting each other.
I tuned into SBS's new series The Hunting on Thursday night and it played out like a documentary. It opens with a scene that cuts right to the chase, classmates Zoe and Andy are Skyping, and masturbating while they do. It ends in a fit of giggles for Zoe, frustration for Andy, and horror for the viewer as we realise that he's been recording the chat, obviously without her permission. You know things are going to go bad.
At another school Nassim and Dip are fumbling around the boundaries of a burgeoning relationship, caught up in the desire that young, innocent longings can stir. Dip takes a nude photo and sends it to Nassim. It was only meant for one person, she says later in the episode. They always are.
What I'm loving about The Hunting already is the exploration of relationship dynamics. Not only do we get to see the young people working things out, or not, but the adults involved in their lives as well, parents and teachers. I'm particularly hating Richard Roxburgh as Andy's father, a narcissist, misogynist, wanker, who treats his son like a king and his wife, played by Asher Keddie, as his handmaiden. He's the father who turns up to parent-teacher night and makes it all about him.
When I wrote about the scandal I wrote about how while it's essential that children learn all about "respectful relationships" for want of a better term, at school, it's vital that they are getting these messages from home as well. When our children are watching our relationships pan out in a way that's far from perfect, what messages are we giving them?
As parents we're all too ready to blame the education system, say our schools are failing us, that the sex education they are teaching is irrelevant. Or we're blaming technology, the internet, social media. Or we're blaming society, the media, pornography for all our woes.
But it starts at home. How we model relationships, how we endeavour to raise respectful children who will grow into respectful adults. And we need to have these hard conversations with them.
It's not as simple as saying don't take the bloody photo in the first place. Research shows about one in seven teenagers, between 12 and 17, have sent sexts and approximately one in four had received one. It's what they do.
Remember our teenage years when we actually spent time at each other's houses, "studying" in people's bedrooms. Now they Skype or Snapchat or slip into each other's DMs from the relative safety of their own bedrooms. We're not going to be able to stop it so we need to be better informed and equipped to deal with it.
I love the approach of groups such as Youth Action, the peak body for young people and youth services in NSW, who are acknowledging that sharing intimate images is an increasing part of young people's self-expression and sexual agency. In a 2016 submission to the Attorney General in regards to the revenge porn/sharing of intimate images discussion paper, Youth Action called for the need for education on respectful relationships, ethics and consent rather than approach that promoted simply refraining from sexting.
There's much to be learned from The Hunting. I'm going to have a discussion about it with my own teenage children, invite them to watch it with me. Talk to them about the issue and how it's being addressed in their social circles, in their schools. They'll probably ignore me but they'll know I'm here for them. And that's what matters.