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Minors & Sex
Posted: Thu May 06, 2021 12:58 am
I am an adult working with a 16-yr-old who is sexually active and engaging in consensual casual sexual encounters with partners her age. Her mother has asked that I help try to get her to talk to her about sex should be an act of love and believes her current behaviors are a result of low self-esteem. I have a sex-positive attitude/belief system, so I am not sure how to navigate this. Do you have any advice given that the teen is a minor and this 'traditional' mom is signing the paychecks?
On a more important note, I am concerned about the fact that this teen has also started sending nude photos and videos to adult men in their 30s & 40s. How can I talk to the teen about this behavior while remaining sex-positive? Am I right to be worried? Where should the line be drawn in regards to this. At this point, they are in possession of child pornography and I am concerned about older men taking advantage of a minor, so I see it as problematic, yet, she is doing this of her own volition and I don't want to shame her. We have already talked about never meeting up in person, not giving out any identifying information, and potential coercion/blackmail.
-This isn't just my bias, right? If I am right to be concerned, how can I label those actions as an area for concern, while others are not? How can I best support this teen?
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Thu May 06, 2021 7:54 am
So, I would prioritize the situation where she's sending images to far older men, because that's both a major safety issue and one that, to me, suggests there is something else going on that needs addressing. Have the two of you spoken about how she's getting in contact with these men in the first place? And have you spoken at all about the giant red flags that are adult men looking to engage in sexual behavior with teenagers? It's great that you want to be sex positive and not shame her, but a key component of sex positivity is being honest about both the benefits AND the risks that come with sexual behavior.
In terms of how to differentiate this from sexual encounters with people her own age when working with her, it might make the most sense to frame it in terms of power; Heather lays out some good frameworks for how to do that here: Why I Deeply Dislike Your Older Boyfriend
. Too, when she describes the sexual interactions with her peers to you, do they sound like they're positive experiences for her?
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Thu May 06, 2021 8:51 am
Her parents are aware of the photos/video being sent and have tightened up parental controls on her phone.
It seems that this man commented on something she posted on instagram and she reached out to him. She has assured me that she has never and would never meet up with this man nor give him any identifying information. It is hard to get to the details as given my ambiguous role as neither therapist nor parent and our limited time together there are lots of things I am hoping to explore deeper, but of course, this was a big red flag that I feel unequipped to handle. She is not pursuing a relationship with this man and she SAYS this was just something she thought was "funny" and that she did it because social isolation during covid has been so mundane and monotonous that this was something just to interrupt that. I can't seem to get into a deeper discussion about this with her as she 'clams up' so to speak. I am focusing heavily on building trust between us so that I am a safe person to talk about these things with. I do not think a concerned lecture from me, no matter how loving and supportive, is the right move, and it has been challenging getting a dialogue going on the topic. It is my belief that this teen is seeking to fill a need for attention that she is not getting elsewhere. (I HATE the term "attention-seeking," however, I do believe that she is not receiving positive attention right now as her parents' worries for her leave them focused on all the negatives). My ultimate goal is to work on some positive parenting and to strengthen the relationship between mother and daughter, however, I think there is still quite a bit of work to do with mom before we get there.
Any advice on how to invite her to open up about the topic or on what I can say or do to support her and her safety here?
Circling back to the sexual encounters with peers. I struggle here because it is not my belief that the behavior in itself is a problem, but that there are feelings that motivate the behaviors that need addressing. The thing is, she talks about these relations as if she finds them empowering and fun and as 'what all teenagers that aren't nerds are doing.'
I struggle with how to understand what is really going on when she is still working on coming to understand her emotions and does not have much insight yet as to what drives her behaviors & feelings. Honestly, it is my belief that these encounters are ultimately not good for her self-esteem, and, I don't have the language to back that given that I don't see a problem with a woman having casual encounters when it comes from a place of self-expression and wholeness.
It is also challenging that mom is talking to her about it being completely inappropriate for her to be engaging in any sexual activity unless she is in love and in a committed relationship, so any talk of there being concern about her sexual behaviors immediately sends the guard walls up. I am unsure of how to talk about the middle ground and what is and is not healthy sexual expression and I fear broaching the topic until I have more confidence that I will not be saying the wrong things, causing harm to self-esteem or hampering the building of trust between us. This teen is definitely of the mentality that adults don't get what it is like to be in her shoes and she very justifiably has a mistrust for the adults in her life. She has openly admitts to struggling with honesty and one of the key things we are working on is building a container for us to talk about things safely and for her to trust that I am not going to over-react as other adults in her life have. ---Given her recent history with adults, any expressions of concern for her are currently seen as a adults overreacting and not getting it.
I LOVE the article you sent to me and will keep it in my pocket as I fear it may be necessary one day, however, it is not particularly relevant right now.
I am really looking forward to your guidance, expertise, and feedback. Thank you for doing what you do!
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Thu May 06, 2021 8:54 am
I just want to add in that I think it's important you let her know that from a legal standpoint, SHE is also engaging in felonies as well, I'm afraid, by *herself* making, possessing and distributing child pornography. That is how these laws are set up and view it, however ridiculous that may seem (and I do think it is). So, I would have larger concerns here than them feeling shame, truthfully: there are potentially massive legal consequences here, including lifelong sex offender status which can make a massive mess of their whole life.
I'm not sure what capacity you're working with this young person in, but in NY, it seems pretty likely that in many capacities with this information you'd be a mandated reporter. Is that the case here?
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Thu May 06, 2021 9:31 am
That is EXTREMELY helpful. I knew it was a felony to distribute images of a minor, and I knew it was a crime for that man to hold the images. I also knew that were another teen to share or possess sexual images of a teen, even if freely given, that is considered a crime. I did not believe that she herself could be charged with a crime. That makes it concrete and undeniably a problem with all psychological and emotional impacts aside. ---this teen has been engaging in a lot of risk-taking behaviors and I am trying to separate what is dangerous and what are what societal norms label as problems or "high-risk." And trying to check my own biases of what I believe are concerning behaviors because of my personal beliefs & values vs what is definitively risky. I am new to the work and so I think part of this question was me 'checking my bias' and wanting to prioritize the right things as there is a lot that needs addressing with this kiddo. This kiddo has experienced a lot of invalidation, and her judgment and behaviors are being challenged as unacceptable and wrong multiple times a day every day, so that is why I am being so cautious. She says, all the adults in her life are "freaking out" and "overreacting" to "normal teenage behavior." So... I am really working on communication & empathy with this family, hoping to help them in seeing the other's perspectives and being able to hear the other side. She has a strong team of professionals working with her, but she has an extreme distrust of adults & I have a unique position of getting to observe what the professionals don't see and both mom and daughter confide in me. Though they both seek my advice, they do not take it. So... I am 'stuck' and looking to see how I can be more effectively supportive, do better, and have a more powerfully positive influence in their lives.
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Thu May 06, 2021 10:01 am
I'm still not clear what capacity you're seeing this young person in, but if it's in any of these -- https://www.nysmandatedreporter.org/Man ... rters.aspx
-- I'm afraid that you may be mandated to report here. At the very least, if you have a supervisor or supervising agency, I'd be sure to fill them in on all of this. It seems to me that someone should be filling you in on some of the kind of information we've given you here at work, you know? You should have at least the kind of professional support and information you're finding at a resource like ours. It also may be time to pull someone else into this with you, all things considered.
In terms of talking to this young person about it, it might be helpful to take it outside the real of value judgements -- theirs, yours, anyone else's -- about what is or isn't normal, and talk about things that may be based on those things, but aren't a matter of opinion, like the law. Whatever anyone's opinions may be about a minor sending nudes to an adult, the fact of the matter is that the laws that exist around that are considerable and that engaging in that behaviour carries consequences that could deeply screw up their whole lives and their ability to live them in a way they probably want to. They might not be aware of what it means to live with sex offender status, and that's something someone may need to explain not to "scare them straight" or any of that garbage, but just so they understand the possible outcomes of this behaviour. Not being able to live in certain neighborhoods or work in certain vocations is a big deal.
But again, it also sounds like you're expressing feeling out of your depth in some ways, too, so if you have a supervisor or supervising agency, I would strongly encourage you to fill them all the way in and seek out some extra support no matter what you do. <3
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Fri May 07, 2021 2:21 pm
There is no agency or supervisor (I would have gone to them long ago)!
--I was hired to work with the younger sister and have been drawn into these scenarios as the mother and teenage daughter have started confiding in me. She was recently admitted into inpatient treatment, and has an entire treatment team-- so I am not sure if mandated reporting applies? Maybe it does... now I worry about that. It is has been difficult for me to navigate given my role in the family and that I see issues on a daily basis and feel powerless to help, particularly because of my ambiguous role in her life. Given the concerns, of course, I do want to be providing good professional advice and not just active listening & emotional support, but in a lot of ways, its 'not my place.' I am in graduate school and have sought advice from professors and social work students, but perhaps I should elevate my concerns and should seek more support there? I appreciate your help and guidance, however. I am unsure whether it is that I am not taking this seriously enough (hiding behind my role perhaps?) Or if I am crossing boundaries and that I should 'stay in my lane' so to speak. You have helped me to realize that I need to seek advisement on social work ethics; my expertise is working with young children and this is my first experience working with an adolescent in any capacity.
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Fri May 07, 2021 4:33 pm
If you know of anyone else at your school who might be able to advise you, I think that would be wise at this point. It sounds tricky to wind up in this role working with a teenager when that wasn't your original job and hasn't been the focus of your training! Hopefully there's someone you can consult with who might have some advice for this situation. I do think Heather's suggestion of how to approach the conversation about sending nudes is a good one. Best of luck, this sounds like a difficult situation to navigate.
Re: Minors & Sex
Posted: Sat May 08, 2021 8:01 am
Can I ask in what capacity/role you were hired to work with the younger sister? Do you have a supervisor or supervising agency for *that* job? If so, that is who I would report this to. Either way, if you are in their home as a social worker, regardless of who you are there to see, I do think you are likely mandated to report anything you see in that home or is disclosed to you that falls under that rubric.
That all said, I also think that if you have only been hired to work with the younger sibling, you probably should not be working with her other sibling at all -- this does sound like an ethical and boundary issue, including that the actual person you're supposed to be serving in the home can't be being served all that well if you're being drawn into other family members issues like this. Again, I would strongly suggest you talk to whoever your supervisor is with any of this: it sounds like something has gone seriously amiss with this whole situation and that you need some help, big time. <3