Roxy was 13 when she was coerced into sharing explicit photos
When 13-year-old Roxy Longworth became withdrawn and sullen, her mother, Gay, hoped it was merely a teenage phase.
Then a call from Roxy’s school revealed the horrifying truth: coerced by a boy four years older, she had been sending explicit selfies to him through social media — and they were spreading like wildfire.
Writer Gay and her husband Adam had worked hard to build a safe and happy family life for their three daughters, but in an instant it all came crashing down.
The problem of children sharing naked photographs is disturbingly widespread. A shocking report released today reveals that more than half of teenage girls aged 14 to 18 have been sent explicit images, while a third were first asked to send a naked picture when they were 13 or younger.
Roxy Longworth (left) was 13 when a boy 14 years older than her coerced her into sending explicit selfies to him, before sharing them around her school. Roxy and her mother Gay (right) have now written a book together about their experience
Surveys show one in six children aged 13 and 14 has sent a nude picture of themselves, and an extraordinary 15per cent of 13-year-olds have been pressured to send such images.
Quite apart from concerns over children exchanging sexual imagery, engaging in this kind of behaviour can constitute a criminal offence. For example, it’s an offence for a child to make a sexual image of themselves — it’s also an offence to share and receive it, let alone coerce a child to take the picture in the first place.
It is every parent’s worst nightmare. And yet, far from hiding from it, Gay and Roxy, now 19, have turned their experiences into a brave and heartbreaking new book.
Here, in a wake-up call to parents and schools alike, they take turns to describe their differing viewpoints — and the devastating toll the experience took on Roxy’s mental health…
A 17-year-old boy started showing interest in Roxy and she was flattered. However, he soon started asking for her to send him explicit pictures of herself, threatening to spread malicious rumours about her if she did not
Roxy Says: Looking back, I wonder whether this was the moment my childhood ended. I was only 13 years old when I pressed send on the first explicit photograph I shared with Dan, a handsome and popular boy who was three school years above me.
The fact he’d started to text me had made me feel good. We never dated — he only ever messaged me after 8pm — but I had always wanted to be liked, and the more the older boys paid attention to me, it seemed, the more the popular girls had time for me.
The morning after sending that first photo of myself in my underwear, I felt dirty. But I didn’t want to lose Dan’s attention. I’d had one boyfriend before — Joe, who was my age and very sweet — but we broke up when I started to receive more attention from older boys.
Dan, it turned out, liked me so much he wanted more photos. More explicit photos. The requests became demands and when I didn’t deliver…
I stepped to the edge of the platform. It was the easy way out. I wouldn’t have to face what I’d done
Rox ur so frigid.
Rox ngl [not going to lie] if you don’t send any im gonna hav to tell ppl that ur super frigid.
I was genuinely terrified that the idea I was frigid would spread around school. I would be completely alone — my friends wouldn’t want to spend time with me.
Sending photos was pretty common; most people did it. If I said no, then why would he keep texting me? So I arched my back to make my stomach seem flatter. I rolled my knees in until a thigh gap appeared. I covered my face in the mirror with my phone and took my top off. I pressed the button again and again and again.
Gay says: For a while, Roxy was happy at her school. At weekends we spent time as a family, lighting fires, watching Strictly and going on muddy walks. For me, it all started the day Roxy showed me a photo of a sixth-form boy she had been texting. She was giggly and gleeful, and I tried not to overreact.
She and her friends were beginning to dress in more overtly ‘sexy’ ways, but I didn’t think she had much experience with boys. This one was handsome, but why did a 17-year-old want to text a 13-year-old girl? I told her he had ‘classic bad-boy’ written all over him.
Roxy explains how she was too scared to tell her mother, in fear that her mum would hate her and be disappointed in her
‘Don’t be that girl,’ I said. ‘Be smarter than that.’
But Roxy blanked me, and in the following weeks our relationship began to deteriorate. She seemed to find my presence even more irritating than usual.
Roxy: The attention became an addiction. If I hadn’t been told how ‘hot’ I was that evening, I couldn’t sleep.
I sent more and more pictures to Dan, mostly on Snapchat. Every time I went into the bathroom at home, I took a new one.
He asked me to do things — get down on my hands and knees, take off my bra, arch my back. I bought a pack of lacy thongs from Primark, which I hid from Mum, and put them on when I took pictures.
Sometimes I really did think about talking to Mum, because although I felt a buzz from the attention, the photos made me feel disgusting, too, and I wanted to tell her how I was messing up. But it seemed like there was so much dislike for me in her eyes, so I didn’t say anything.
Things got worse when Roxy realised that the older boy, Dan, had been showing her pictures around and his friends started messaging her for the same kind of photos
And then one day I got a new text.
Hey, I think you are really fit.
It was from one of Dan’s friends. I ignored his first few messages. His fourth text asked me to send him photos. I ignored him again.
The fifth text came. It was a photo of me in a bra and a thong.
It was clearly me. I’d been sending pictures to Dan for several months and taking them had become so normal, I’d stopped scrubbing out my face. Idiot.
Of course, Dan always promised not to screenshot the photos, but…
I felt sick.
And then came the killer text that marked the end of my life as I knew it.
If you don’t send me what I want, then I will send the photos I already have to my cousin.
His cousin was a girl in my year. If she received those photos, then everybody would have them and I thought I’d die. So I went to the bathroom and stripped down to my underwear.
Roxy says it was the worst day of her life when her housemistress called her into the office and revealed that the school knew about the photos
A moment ago I didn’t know his name, yet this big, 17-year-old guy held my life in his hands. To him, it was a game. Literally. I found out later that he and Dan played Top Trumps with my photos.
Gay: We were driving to get cake when Roxy received a phone call. I could tell at once that something about it distressed her. She went quite pink in the face, then the call ended.
‘Who was that?’ I asked.
‘Someone asked if this was the number of the local prostitute.’
‘What? A friend? A joke?’ She said she didn’t recognise the voice.
‘Take down the number. Let me call it back.’
‘No, no. Don’t. It doesn’t matter.’
‘It does matter. Why would someone do that?’
‘There are rumours going around about me at school.’
‘I don’t know.’
Roxy says that the girls backed away from her in school and the boys asked her blatant belittling questions
Creeping hostility. Was I to blame for this? Roxy’s tone was often one of undisguised loathing. The mistake I made was to assume the loathing was directed at me.
Over the next few days, her mood continued to darken. She said only that ‘everyone was being horrible’ to her. Any attempt to probe further was met with silence.
Roxy: Day by day, I knew the photos were spreading. Girls backed away. Boys asked blatant belittling questions. I cannot describe how difficult it was to walk with my head held high when I knew the majority of the people I was passing had seen me naked.
And then one day, not long after my 14th birthday, my housemistress called me into her office.
‘We know what you have been sending these older boys, Roxy,’ she said. ‘We are investigating it and going through some boys’ phones.’
I’d known it was coming — the worst day of my life. I needed my mum so badly, but I dreaded the thought of her hatred when she found out.
Gay: The meeting at school took place with three members of staff crammed into a small room. I had no idea why I’d been called in — Roxy was doing well academically.
Roxy was given ‘sanctions’ because she’d broken school ICT rules. She was gated and told to write a reflective essay. However, Gay was never told who the boy was or if he was punished like her daughter was
The deputy head said: ‘It has come to our attention that Roxy has been sending photos of herself to boys in the sixth form.’
I was floored. Reeling.
The two other members of staff, the women, just looked at me — kindly, forlornly, pityingly.
I planted my feet on the floor. I breathed slowly.
‘How do you know it’s her?’
‘The photos are identifiable,’ he explained. Full-body shots.
‘How did you find out?’
There was some awkward shuffling. Some of the female sixth-formers had heard things and were concerned, he said.
Roxy took time off school but her mental health was deteriorating. She would cut herself at school and one day she thought about ending her life
My heart sank. She’d tried to tell me in the car: Mummy, there are rumours going around about me at school.
‘Where is she?’
‘Yes, it’s a pity she’s not here,’ said the deputy head. ‘She wanted us to tell you because she was worried you would be angry.’
I was confused, perplexed, upset, stunned — and she was right, it all balled up into a tight knot of something that did feel remarkably like anger. Why would she do such a stupid thing?
‘Who are the boys?’ I asked.
‘Sorry, we can’t tell you that.’
‘Hang on, these boys have naked photos of my daughter but you can’t tell me their names?’
‘Data protection,’ he said.
I felt anger again. Spitting, blood-curdling anger, and it would stay with me for a long time.
Roxy was given ‘sanctions’ because she’d broken school ICT rules. She was gated and told to write a reflective essay. I was recommended a counsellor so she could ‘explore’ why she felt she had ‘to behave like this’ and learn strategies for ‘coping and changing’. To the best of my knowledge, no one asked the boy who coerced Roxy why he felt he had to behave like that, or made him learn strategies to respect girls of any age, but particularly girls of 13.
To this day, I have no idea if they were punished or if their parents were ever informed.
Gay and Roxy wrote a book together during lockdown, and quickly noticed their differing perspectives on the situation
A month later, now chronically sleep-deprived, paranoid and miserable, Roxy ran away, telling me she wanted to disappear.
We called the police and the officer who helped us look for her told us the school should have reported it. ‘We are dealing with rising weekly cases of this nature,’ said the officer. ‘A girl or boy falls into the trap of sending an image of themselves naked. This is a child pornographic image and it’s illegal. Immediately, that image is used as leverage to gain more images.
‘Threats of exposure are always part of it, which makes it coercive. The threats continue until the images are distributed, discovered, and life as they knew it is over.’
I needed Roxy to come home so I could tell her that life wasn’t over, but she was no longer listening to my voice.
Roxy: Mum took away my phone. She wanted to treat me like a stupid teenager.
For her, this was the beginning of the drama, but it had already been months of hell for me.
That weekend, I went shopping in London with a family friend who was my age and she insisted we go into Victoria’s Secret.
As soon as I entered the shop, I couldn’t breathe. The huge photos of models wearing practically nothing loomed over me. I ran outside and slid down the wall until I was a ball on the floor.
Alone on the Tube platform later, when I heard the train coming, I stepped forward to the very edge. It was the easy way out. I wouldn’t have to face what I’d done…
I told myself I was a messy, attention-seeking, dumb, teenage girl. I was the trainwreck that went from model student to stupid slut. But in the end I didn’t think I had the guts to actually end it. Back at school I took all the insults — the fired spitballs, the rolled-up notes saying ‘SLAG’ — and the only way I found any relief was to go somewhere alone and take out the blade I’d unscrewed from a pencil sharpener.
I made bright-red cuts across my arms and up my torso. I wanted to feel the sting. I wanted to watch as the blood kept oozing.
In lessons, I used the blade to shave away at my fingernails under the desk until eventually I got to the skin underneath. The pain was excruciating.
Gay: Over the next two months, Roxy struggled through lessons until the school sent her home, aware she was cutting and unable ‘to guarantee her safety’ any more.
When You Lose It by Roxy and Gay Longworth (£16.99, Welbeck), out on July 7.
I diluted Dettol in a bowl and rolled up her sleeves to clean her injuries. The cuts appeared superficial but, my God, there were so many of them, criss- crossing her snow-white skin like striations in marble. I was crippled with fear and guilt.
The photos damaged her, but the blame broke her.
Her mental health began a dangerous downward spiral, taking her to a dark and terrifying place. She started to hear mean, accusing voices laughing at her, calling her names, and we, the people who loved her, couldn’t reach her.
While driving at 60mph to a desperately hard-won appointment at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, she suddenly opened the door and tried to get out. The ‘people’ told her it wasn’t safe in the car.
I couldn’t leave her alone, not even to wash. I felt the extraordinary complexity of being needed and hated in equal measure.
And yet Roxy did crawl out of the well. Music helped, nature helped, powerful anti-psychotic drugs probably saved her life.
She left that school and after nine months at home, she went to a crammer and took her GCSEs.
A little over four years after she sent that first photo, she celebrated her 18th birthday with a party. Her dad and I hugged each other and burst into tears of pride. We felt joy because she had a few precious friends who had stood by her; and relief, because she was alive.
When her A-Levels were cancelled during the lockdown, Roxy and I decided to write a book together. But we could barely be in the same room, so different were our accounts of what happened.
So she disappeared into one room to write, I into another. Only when we had finished did we each read the other’s version and start to understand.
I hope you know now, Roxy, that you were a child who deserved to be protected by us, by the school who should have made it clear from the very first moment that this was not your fault, and by me — I should have known what was happening to you and I should have stopped it. I will carry that sadness and regret to the grave.
Today, Roxy is studying maths and neuroscience at university, and I am amazed at how powerful her brain is. She has been broken — we all have — but with every day that passes, she becomes stronger and more beautiful.
- Adapted from When You Lose It by Roxy and Gay Longworth (£16.99, Welbeck), out on July 7. © Roxy Longworth and Gay Longworth 2022. To order a copy for £15.29 (offer valid until July 7, 2022; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Some names have been changed. For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116 123.