Trauma: Sophie, with her mother Sarah, became a laughing stock at school after a boy circulated a topless picture she had sent him
As she sat down to her homework in her bedroom, Sophie heard the familiar chime of her mobile phone. Among the usual messages from friends, there was yet another text from a 13-year-old boy in her class. It was the tenth from him that day, each one making the same lewd and disturbing demand: ‘Sophie, send me a topless picture. You know you want to. All I want is to see you naked.’
Shockingly, such requests were not unusual for Sophie, 13, a naturally pretty girl with delicate features and shoulder-length blonde hair. So far, she had always ignored them, or said a very firm ‘no’.
But Sophie, from Ipswich, Suffolk, admits she found this particular boy’s persistence flattering — and at the back of her mind she knew it was the more attractive girls who were asked by boys to send them ‘special’ pictures. So, baby-faced Sophie peeled off her top, sat on her bed and pointed the phone at her budding chest.
Think before you text: Sending sex texts is now rife but teens don't always consider the consequences (posed by model)
By the next day, it seemed there was virtually no one in Year 8 of her secondary school (which, incidentally, is one of the best in Ipswich) who hadn’t seen it.
A year on, Sophie, now 14, her mother Sarah Beale and stepfather Steve are still living with the impact of that foolish spur-of-the-moment decision. While Sophie has had to deal with being ostracised by girls at school and become a laughing stock among the boys, her parents had to overcome their shock at her behaviour to be able to support her as she approaches her GCSEs.
Their story offers a chilling insight into the secret world of today’s technology-obsessed teenagers, who seem not to realise the long-term implications of having indecent pictures of themselves circulating in cyberspace.
It also shows how even children from the most middle-class and respectable families can find themselves sucked in to a disturbing sexual landscape in which disembodied pictures of body parts are traded in the playground as freely as bubblegum cards.
'He had sent her a full frontal picture of himself and she had sent him a topless picture back. He told her he would delete her picture. But once again he circulated it to his mates'
Of course, it would be easy to question what kind of girl sends naked pictures to classmates.
But the shocking answer is that it could so easily be your teenage daughter sending them — or your son doing the asking. What’s so terrifying about Sophie’s story is how normal such behaviour appears to have become.
Sexting — or the sending of sexually explicit messages or pictures by phone — has become such an everyday occurrence that a recent study of 14 to 15-year-old girls by Plymouth University found four out of ten teenagers don’t see anything wrong with taking topless pictures of themselves.
Studies have also found youngsters from privileged backgrounds are just as at risk as those from deprived homes.
Indeed, Sophie comes from a good family. Her mother Sarah, 38, is a privately educated teaching assistant.
A quiet, shy girl who has always done well at school, the most attention Sophie ever attracted before this was being told off by a teacher for sneezing too loudly.
Sophie is now taking 11 GCSEs, and plans to become a midwife. Even now, she seems to view her actions as little more than part of the ritual of modern-day flirtation.
It’s easier to pretend it’s no big deal and that adults could never possibly understand it.
‘It’s just normal,’ Sophie says matter-of-factly. ‘If a boy likes a girl, the first thing he does is ask for your picture. Some of my friends had done exactly the same thing for boys. It’s just that theirs didn’t get sent around.
‘As soon as I arrived at school, I knew most people had seen it because they were staring and laughing. When my back was turned, I heard the words slag and slut. I tried to ignore it.’
That afternoon Sophie’s mother’s eyes were dramatically opened to the realities of teenage life when she got a call from the school.
Sarah, who has a younger daughter Chloe, 12, says: ‘The head of the lower school told me the boys had been passing round a nude picture on their phones in afternoon registration. Although you couldn’t see her face, the picture had been identified as Sophie. My first instinct was: “You must have the wrong child.”