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Local advocacy centers, law enforcement reminding of importance of digital consent

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 9:54 PM CDT
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SHERMAN, Texas (KXII) - In 2020, the Grayson Crisis Center helped over 70 victims of sexual assault, and over half were under 19 years old.

This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Grayson County advocacy centers are drawing attention to another term you may not be familiar with: it’s called digital consent.

As so many of us turned to screens for social interaction during the pandemic, many people turned to technology to keep their relationships going and others used it for predatory purposes.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, digital consent is a way to refer to sexual consent that happens through screens. That can include sexting, sharing explicit content, and even meeting someone online and agreeing to meet up in person.

Local advocacy centers say with today’s modern age of technology, digital consent is absolutely critical.

“Consent is just as important in the online world as it is in the real world,” said Abigail Hill, Development and Outreach Coordinator for the Grayson County Children’s Advocacy Center .

“In the digital world, things just don’t disappear,” said Shelli Shields, Grayson Crisis Center Executive Director.

Access to the digital world is getting younger and younger.

“And from kindergartners, we’re hearing about TikTok and Snapchat,” Hill said.

Which is why Hill says digital consent is an important lesson early on for kids and teenagers.

“We live in an era of sexting, we live in an era of really sharing some content that most adults would be pretty mortified by,” Hill said.

She says in some cases, shared sexually explicit content can lead to revenge porn. In other words, someone posts a photo of another person without their consent.

“The problem is once you put an image out online, you lose control over it,” Hill said.

Shields said to set boundaries, since online communication lacks factors like body cues and eye contact.

“Kind of where we understand that communication is a lot more than our words, we lose that with digital technology,” Shields said.

Both Shields and Hill say the key is education, like becoming familiar with the apps you and your kids use and knowing whatever you post or share doesn’t go away.

But there’s another side of digital consent too.

“Sending unwanted or unsolicited sexually explicit material to somebody, that is also against the law,” said Sherman Police Sgt. Brett Mullen.

It’s a misdemeanor charge for someone if they send a sexually explicit image without the other person’s consent.

But Mullen says predators often solicit children online, which is a felony.

“Because you really have no idea who you’re talking to, whose on the other end of that computer,” Mullen said.

“So it’s really about equipping kids and equipping yourself to know what’s going on and how to best protect your family,” Hill said.

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