Monday, April 27, 2009

Consequences for Sexting

Three Students in Billerica, who were involved in a recent sexting case, will not face child pornography charges, according to an article in the Boston Herald. Instead of being criminally charged in the incident, the one 13 year old student and two 14 year old students will be required to attend cybersafety classes and will have the use of their cell phones restricted over the next 6 months. The boys who forwarded the photo will also perform 50 hours of community service. The students could have faced much more serious child pornography charges under Massachusetts state law.

More and more states are considering passing laws that specifically deal with sexting. A recent article in eSchool News gives examples of what some states are proposing. Vermont has a bill pending in the House that would create an exemption from prosecution for child pornography for 13- to 18-year-olds on either the sending or receiving end of sexting messages, so long as the sender voluntarily transmits an image of himself or herself. Ohio is another state that is working on legislation that would allow for teens caught sexting not to have to register as sex offenders. It is important for kids to understand, however, that even if these laws are put into place, that there are still consequences to their actions. Some of these states are taking away cell phone and internet use from offenders, as well as making them attend sexual harassment classes.

Most experts agree that teens need to be educated about the risks of sexting. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have a resource online called Think Before You Post which offers advice on sharing and posting personal information online.

Felicia Vargas and I recently presented to four classes of Middle School students at the McCormick Middle School as a part of their Health and Wellness Day. The main part of the presentation was about cyberbullying, but the organizers of the event asked us to add some information about sexting. So we dedicated the last 15 minutes of the presentation to discussing sexting and its consequences with the students. Most students knew what sexting is, and most admitted that they knew of someone who had sent or received a nude photo of someone on their phone. What a lot of them seemed surprised about were the legal consequences of sexting. We told them that they could get into serious trouble if they participate in this action, including being charged with distribution of child pornography. We also tried to explain that there are also serious emotional consequences to sexting. Unfortunately, a lot of times, the person who takes the photo of themselves doesn't think that it is going to be forwarded on to other people. Children need to understand that once they send a photo out by text, or post it online, that photo can then be passed along to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of other people. We asked students to remember these three important things:
  1. Be Smart: Think before you send any pictures out, understand that usually nothing you post is private in cyberspace.
  2. Be Strong: Don't give into pressure to do something you are not comfortable with, like sending a nude photo. Don't let your friends give into any pressure.
  3. Be Responsible: Don't ask someone to send a nude photo to you and don't forward nude photos to other people if you receive one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good Morning America Story on Sexting

This Morning, Good Morning America aired a town hall style meeting with teens and parents about Sexting. The piece features Perry Aftab of Wired Safety giving parents a few tips on how to check and see if your child has posted anything inappropriate online. It also features a teenage girl and her mother who share how she sent a nude photograph of herself to her boyfriend, who then forwarded the picture on to other people after they broke up. Here is the link to the video:

Talk to your students and parents about Sexting. Let them know that Boston School Police and the Boston Police Department could prosecute students for breaking Massachusetts State child pornography laws including Chapter 272 Sections 28, 29, 29A, 29B, 29C. In summary, those laws basically say that you cannot distribute matter that is deemed harmful to minors, disseminate or possess obscene matter, or have anyone under the age of 18 pose for a picture in the state of nudity or engaged in sexual conduct. It is against the law for a picture to be taken and it is against the law for a person to forward that picture if they receive it.

Students that engage in this type of behavior could end up suffering serious consequences including arrest for a felony and registering as a sex offendor. Students who have taken nude photos of themselves and had them forwarded to unintended recipients have suffered severe emotional and psychological damage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Another Sexting Story

Another day, another story about teenage sexting. Leroy Wong, A colleague of mine sent a link to this story from CNN. It is another case in which a teen is convicted of a crime after he sent out a nude photo of his ex-girlfriend via cell phone to friends. As is the case in many of these incidents, his girlfriend willingly sent him the photo of herself. Angry, after an argument, the teen decided to send the picture of her out to other people. As a result, he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of sending child pornography. He is now a registered sex offender in the state of Florida until he is 43 years old. He can't leave the country without making special plans with his probation officer and he has trouble finding a job because he is a convicted felon.

There are more and more cases like this popping up all over the country and it has set off a debate on whether or not teenagers should be punished so severely for sexting. There are those who consider it child pornography and that the offenders should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Then there are those who think that it is just teen indiscretion, child pornography laws were not made to be enforced in these types of cases.

One of the more interesting things that came out of this article is about a survey done by and National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. They surveyed about 1300 teens and young adults from ages 13-26 years old about sexting. Any of the findings they labeled as "teens" were from the group of 13-19 year olds. The results are very interesting including:
  • 20% of the teens surveyed have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves
  • 39% of the teens surveyed have sent sexually explicit messages
  • 75% of the teens surveyed say sending sexually suggestive content "can have serious negative consequences"
So, 3 out of 4 kids surveyed know that there are negative consequences associated with sexting, but some of them are doing it anyway. In fact 44% of the teens say it is common for these pictures and messages to be shared with other people than the intended recipient. So the question is why do they do it? Here are the answers according to the survey:

Among teens who have sent sexually suggestive content:
  • 66% of teen girls and 60% of teen boys say they did
    so to be “fun or flirtatious”— their most common
    reason for sending sexy content.
  • 52% of teen girls did so as a “sexy present” for their
  • 44% of both teen girls and teen boys say they sent
    sexually suggestive messages or images in response
    to such content they received.
  • 40% of teen girls said they sent sexually suggestive
    messages or images as “a joke.”
  • 34% of teen girls say they sent/posted sexually suggestive
    content to “feel sexy.”
  • 12% of teen girls felt “pressured” to send sexually
    suggestive messages or images.
Along with this very insightful survey, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy website gives tips to parents on how to talk to their children about sexting. They also have a great tip sheet for teens as well, one that should be shared with all texting teens.