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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some teens may not be thinking sexual crime, but they are ALL thinking sex, as were the hundreds of thousands that are in American prisons today for doing nothing more than looking at naked pictures. If teens are allowed to get away with it then the 'system' MUST also let those hundreds of thousands out of prisons. Kids hide pics behind files on their phones easily (as they do on home computers), and parents shouldn't be blamed because even a computer geek has trouble cracking today's encryption codes. BUT, it is a crime by anyone to make, send, or even receive and not report it! And making porn gets an adult 20 years in prison, so why should teens be able to get away with it for years, then when they come of age they can no longer do it?! That is exactly like saying a teen can drink alcohol all they want until they are 18, then no more, period. Not going to happen! All or none, period. Teens cannot plead ignorance any more than robbing a bank, stealing a car, or shoplifting - they are all crimes and teens know more about it than parents do. Parents that defend their prodigy are obviously trying to keep them out of legal trouble, but they are also in denial. If looking at it isn't that bad then release those hundreds of thousands in prison go as well. And if you just thought that a teen didn't send a sexual picture for sexual reasons, you need a reality check. They are grooming the person for sex, breaking down barriers; that's how it's done. If it is bad, then the teens get locked up also!