Monday, August 23, 2010

Sexting: One More Thing for Parents to Worry About

This month my brother, Luke Nichols and his lovely wife Becca, came to visit and during one of several interesting conversations we had he spoke of his experiences as a criminal defense attorney in the Washington D.C. area.

Through his work he's seen some of the consequences of teenagers sexting (and if you don't know what sexting is, just ask any teen) and he has volunteered time at youth centers to warn teens of the dangers they face when the law gets involved.

You may already know of the dangers this new phenomenon poses to the morality of our children and society but you ought also to know of the legal dangers children face if caught--and if they have a cell phone I can pretty much guarantee you that they've have experience in the area already.

Luke joins us as a guest poster and legal opinion on the subject and you can read more about sexting on his website at Spectrum Legal Defense.

P.S. Don't let the picture distract you--I just wanted a picture of Luke and this one of Lillian and him goofing it up and celebrating their fishing success cracks me up.

***

What Is Sexting?
While the moral, psychological, and religious implications of sexting deserves their own discussion, I am a criminal defense attorney and what I am qualified to tell you is 1) that sexting is rampant and 2) sexting can land a child in prison for years.

Sexting, or sexual texting, is an epidemic that involves using the internet and usually camera phones to share sexually explicit photos, text, and video. While not all youths are willful participants in this seedy conduct, the popularity of camera phones now means that nearly all young people are exposed to sexting whether they like it or not.

Legally speaking, the problem is that sexting is the wholesale production and distribution of child pornography within our homes and schools. When a fourteen year-old boy takes picture of his thirteen year-old girlfriend’s breast he has committed felony production of child pornography and the separate felony of possession of child pornography. If that young man or any of his friends display, copy, or share that image then they are guilty of a third felony, distribution of child pornography. If that boy or anyone else requested or enticed the minor to expose her breasts he may also be guilty of aggravated sexual battery or felony child molestation among other crimes.

While each state is different, there are few places in the US were child pornography and other sex crimes against minors are not ruthlessly punished and prosecuted. Parents should also keep in mind that because the internet crosses state lines child pornography is frequently prosecuted in federal courts as a federal crime.

In some states, the maximum punishment for just production of child pornography is 30 years in an adult prison facility. What is more onerous, in many states each photo can result in a separate charge, so that a young man or woman who takes multiple photos will be charged with multiple counts of production, possession, and distribution.

One of my more recent juvenile clients was caught with twelve pictures of his naked seventeen year-old girlfriend. He was charged will twelve counts of possession of child pornography and faces up to sixty years in jail.

So How Big of a Deal Is It?
The mistake that most adults make is that they do not realize how serious these crimes are. The first sexting case I ever worked on involved a seventeen year-old boy who used his camera phone to take a video of his naked thirteen year little brother and friend during a hazing prank. Even though the boys willingly went along with the hazing and even though my client was not accused of intending anything sexual (just humiliation) my client was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual battery for enticing two minors to take their clothes off, one count of production of child pornography, one count of possession, and one count of distribution after he showed the video to his friends.

Those charges allowed the court to try the young man as an adult and carried a maximum penalty of 104 years in prison and a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison. The boy was fortunately only found guilty of some of the charges and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

But My Kid Doesn't Sext . . .
What I find so disturbing about sexting is just how common it is, yet the only adults who seem to understand this are the police and prosecutors. One recent trial for possession of child pornography involved a young man in his late teens. The police were chatting with this young man when the officers asked to see his cell phone. The officers searched the phone and discovered a naked photo of the teen’s seventeen year-old girlfriend. When I asked the officer why he searched his phone the officer looked at me like I was an idiot and said “All teenagers have naked photos of their girlfriends on their cell phone."

While the officer’s statement is somewhat of an overstatement, I have since discovered that he was not far off the mark. In the last year, I have since started speaking with high school students and teen intervention groups about the dangers of sexting and I have consistently found the practice of sexting utterly unchecked by adults. Every time I speak at a school about sexting, without fail many of the young men laugh or brag about the practice openly in front of their teachers or supervisors and almost none of the youth are unfamiliar with it. Getting a naked photo of a girl is simply “first base” for too many young men now days.

While the girls’ attitudes about sexting are not usually so cocky or jovial they are equally as exposed to the practice. In the short time I have been speaking to youths I have heard too many accounts of young girls being forcibly exposed and photographed by young men with camera phones at school. Often, these girls have said nothing about these attacks because, like the young men, they think that shoving a camera phone up a girl’s skirt and posting it on the web is a mean prank not a felony.

Many of the youths I speak to are good kids who feel no attraction to sexting, but they are still exposed to it. With a few clicks their friends and often distant acquaintances send them dirty photos. Naked photos of fellow class mates are now the new medium for youths to boast about their conquests or to humiliate and shame one another. While certain girls in my high school did things in private for attention, similar young women of this generation can garnish the wrong kind of attention from hundreds of boys with a camera phone and 30 seconds.

Few teenagers today have not been exposed to child pornography via sexting, and what they don’t realize is that the simple possession of those materials is a felony regardless of whether they approve of or despise the practice.

Sexting Is a Loaded Gun or a Pound of Cocaine
Legally speaking, child pornography is no different than guns and drugs. If you are caught with it, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were, you are going to jail. Additionally, most people do not realize that putting child pornography in your computer’s trash bin does not solve the problem. If there is any way you can retrieve the pornographic photo after you have deleted it, then you are still in possession.

Many courts have taken this to extremes and will find possession even if retrieving the images requires a computer expert. A common example includes the temporary files created on your computer when you view images on the internet. The police catch online pedophiles by monitoring sites which contain child pornography. They accumulate data on who has viewed the photos and when they finally shut down the site they round up all the visitors’ computers and have computer forensic scientist retrieve the temporary files created by surfing the internet. Many of the social networking sites and chat rooms popular with youth contain indecent photos of minors, and the law does not distinguish between an internet user who ogles young girls and one who was is simply reading their friend’s online profile. If it is on your computer, you are in trouble.

When teachers ask me what they should do when (not if) they find child pornography on their students' phones I tell them to treat it like a loaded gun or a kilo of cocaine. Don’t handle it. Don’t examine it. Just call security or the police immediately! No matter what happens, never ever give a child their phone or computer back if you know there is any pornography on it. Giving pornography (not just child pornography) to a minor is a serious crime and I am not aware of any law that makes exceptions for giving a kid back their own pictures.

It Can Come Back to Haunt Them
Inevitably, when I discuss sexting with youths, there are those who balk at my cautions because they don’t think they will ever get in trouble. Everyone around them is doing it so why worry?

What they don’t realize is that sexting is a new problem. Adults are learning and each year the numbers of children arrested grow as more people report incidents to law enforcement. Also, in many state there is no statute of limitation for these types of felonies. This means that the government can bring charges against a person 20 years after the crime was committed if they want to. Many child molesters are prosecuted only after their victims are grown and come forward as adults. Likewise, a young man who coerces a young woman to expose herself may not get reported to police until the girl has grown and has become old enough to know that what was done to her was illegal.

I tell young men that when they take dirty photos of a girl, that girl has complete control over their fate. If she ever gets angry and wants to hurt them all she has to do pick up the phone and call the police.

However, the more common way youths are being arrested is when their dirty photos are passed around until a responsible adult sees the pictures and calls the police. All the police have to do is threaten the last sender with felony possession and distribution of child pornography unless they tell them where they got the photos. Getting teenagers and parents to talk is easy when children are facing up to 10-20 years in prison.

Some police are also searching phones as a regular part of criminal investigations. One of my young clients was falsely accused of assault and battery after defending himself from a gang attack. When he was arrested the police inventoried his possession and discovered multiple dirty photos of his underage girlfriend on his cell phone. The police quickly realized that he was the real victim and dropped the assault and battery charges; however, they went forward with over ten counts of felony possession of child pornography.

Is There Any Protection?
Obviously sexting is dangerous, but the real question is: what can be done to protect children? To parents, I would like to point out the vast majority of the sexting cases involve camera phones, and I cannot think of a reason that a sixteen year old needs a camera on their phone.
Additionally, I think half of my clients are in trouble because of whom they associate with. Know your children’s online and real world friends. There are only two ways I know of to find out who your child associates with online: either you monitor their online activity or you ask them (I recommend both).

Finally, there is no substitute for talking openly and frankly to your children about the consequences of sexting. And while I can only address the legal ramifications, it is up to parents to weigh in on the moral, emotional, and religious implications of online sexual activity.
And if all of that fails, liquidate their college fund and hire a good attorney.

Sponsored by Sorella Jewelry Studio for fine personalized jewelry.

48 comments:

Kelly @ Love Well said...

My kids are too young to have cell phones or even ask for one. (And after this article, I'm not sure they'll ever have one.)(At least, not for a long, long time.)

But man, this is important stuff. Thank you!

happygeek said...

Sent here by Kelly. This solidifies my desire to keep my kids phone free as long as possible.

Reno said...

Thank you for this information. I'll be passing it on.

Cindy B. said...

Thank you for this excellent article! I have posted it on FB for my friends.
My 15 year old daughter would like to have a phone, of course, but so far there is no need for it.

TJ said...

i'm posting this on FB. thanks for the info!

Pieces said...

Thank you so much for this information. I never knew...

Robin ~ PENSIEVE said...

Michelle,

EVERY parent in America NEEDS to read this post! I'm going to stumble, Tweet and FB it because to me, it's that important.

A few responses:

a) Most of the phones available today REQUIRE a data package (or this was the case through Verizon); while it was optional not to have it initially, today, that is no longer possible (if you buy the phone, you're required to have the package). With my oldest two teens, we were able to have it taken off their service. They can text with words, but no pictures can be sent or received. They can TAKE pictures, but they're only for their eyes to see since transmission is unavailable. With my youngest, we purchased a phone that did not require a data package (it was not the phone he had wanted and saved for).

b) The rule at our home is at any time we can ask to read their phone.

c) We caution them that anything they send (and in their cases, it's only words) will probably be read by someone else (i.e. PARENTS!). They can never assume a text (or email for that matter) will be read ONLY by the recipient. I think they believe this....

d) My kids attended private, Christian schools since preschool; when my middle son was in 9th grade, a junior girl got his number, began a series of flirtations and offered to send him nude pictures. It freaked him out and he stopped replying to her texts including telling her not to send it (she didn't). However, she DID send the pics to several other guys...and one of their parents found it, went to her parents, and eventually our principals were alerted and had to deal with the fall out. I only found out AFTER the fact and when I confronted my son, he told me the story and filled in a lot of blanks.

And these are "good" kids....

e) I tell any parent who'll listen that getting their kids are smart phone (or even one with picture texting capability) is giving them a loaded gun and it's putting their kid in a position he doesn't need to be in.

A side note but it's relevant: a friend of mine was broken hearted when she learned her 13 year old was surfing porn on his handheld toy (can't remember which one it is now!). She didn't even know he could access wireless in their home, and though he was ashamed and repentant, he realized he had a problem....

Parents need to think again if their own kid is "above it".... I'm reminded again that you can't be too nosey when it comes to your kid and if they have a Facebook account you need to have login credentials.

Gee whiz...I have lots more thoughts about this so maybe I should just blog 'em :). Thanks to your brother for guest blogging an important message!

Robin ~ PENSIEVE said...

Michelle,

EVERY parent in America NEEDS to read this post! I'm going to stumble, Tweet and FB it because to me, it's that important.

A few responses:

a) Most of the phones available today REQUIRE a data package (or this was the case through Verizon); while it was optional not to have it initially, today, that is no longer possible (if you buy the phone, you're required to have the package). With my oldest two teens, we were able to have it taken off their service. They can text with words, but no pictures can be sent or received. They can TAKE pictures, but they're only for their eyes to see since transmission is unavailable. With my youngest, we purchased a phone that did not require a data package (it was not the phone he had wanted and saved for).

b) The rule at our home is at any time we can ask to read their phone.

c) We caution them that anything they send (and in their cases, it's only words) will probably be read by someone else (i.e. PARENTS!). They can never assume a text (or email for that matter) will be read ONLY by the recipient. I think they believe this....

d) My kids attended private, Christian schools since preschool; when my middle son was in 9th grade, a junior girl got his number, began a series of flirtations and offered to send him nude pictures. It freaked him out and he stopped replying to her texts including telling her not to send it (she didn't). However, she DID send the pics to several other guys...and one of their parents found it, went to her parents, and eventually our principals were alerted and had to deal with the fall out. I only found out AFTER the fact and when I confronted my son, he told me the story and filled in a lot of blanks.

And these are "good" kids....

e) I tell any parent who'll listen that getting their kids are smart phone (or even one with picture texting capability) is giving them a loaded gun and it's putting their kid in a position he doesn't need to be in.

A side note but it's relevant: a friend of mine was broken hearted when she learned her 13 year old was surfing porn on his handheld toy (can't remember which one it is now!). She didn't even know he could access wireless in their home, and though he was ashamed and repentant, he realized he had a problem....

Parents need to think again if their own kid is "above it".... I'm reminded again that you can't be too nosey when it comes to your kid and if they have a Facebook account you need to have login credentials.

Gee whiz...I have lots more thoughts about this so maybe I should just blog 'em :). Thanks to your brother for guest blogging an important message!

Susan (5 Minutes For Mom) said...

WOW!!!!

Scary stuff!!!!

I hadn't even thought about any of that before. Fortunately my girls are only 2 and 5 so I have a while until they get cell phones... but this is so terrifying. I had no idea of all the legal ramifications and I'm sure the mother's of most teens have no idea either.

Thank you for publishing this post.

Mary @ Giving Up On Perfect said...

GREAT point about not needing a camera on a phone. Actually, great points all around. My daughter is only 2, so I can only imagine the dangers we'll face in 10 years. But it's good to stay educated along the way, even if it seems like our time for dealing with this is so far off!

Anonymous said...

A boy in my daugther's class had a naked photo of a girl and was telling/showing fellow classmates it was my daughter. It was not my child and my daughter was so freaked out that she went to the administration. They did nothing (they did look at the photo)and when my husband spoke to the asst. prinicipal about it, the matter was bascially disimissed.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add that the photo was on his phone.

luke said...

Very few of the criminal cases I have seen were intialized by teachers or administrators. This is frankly dangerous behavior for teachers who are coming in contact with child porn.
AN asst principle in a local county was recently charge with poss of child porn after he confiscated dirty photos from boy in the school as part of a sextibg crack down. He got into trouble because the priciples didn't report anything. The charges were eventually dismissed but only after $150,000 in legal fees and a year of his life were gone. http://m.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/04/sexting-hysteri/

Adventures In Babywearing said...

Wonderful article- I'm passing along to my friend who is also a middle school teacher- she's already had some experience in this area sadly.

Steph

Erin said...

As a teacher, I've passed every instance of sexting along to my superiors. Unfortunately, by and large, no one wants to deal with it. Either the kids aren't called downstairs in a timely manner (i.e. enough time for them to delete said pictures) or the they're given second chances. This has led to a middle school where, ultimately, I believe the majority of students ARE sexting. It's frustrating and I wish that parents would step up and see that their children don't need smart phones and they DO need to check their children's text messages, every single day. It's certainly not limited to any one group of kids, either. They don't think of the ramifications and don't realize that sending a nude picture IS wrong. It's so sad.

Daisy said...

It falls into the "...can't happen to me" immortal feeling of being a teen. "Everybody does it" doesn't hold up in court. Thank you for the straightforward summary!

SandyCarlson said...

An eye-opener, to be sure. Thanks for this valuable informatoin.

Mia said...

Well with kids 6 and under I was totally naive to the existence of any of this. I have sent this on! Thanks so much for the article.

Scholz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scholz said...

I oppose any force, coercion, or manipulation in getting anything from anyone, especially minors. That said,
This writer is so excited he found a way to prosecute young people who are intending no harm. Let's not conflate real predators and abusers with every teen with a naked photo on his or her phone. I've heard of teens being accused of producing child pornography for photographing themselves! This is clearly an unintended consequence of a good intentioned law.
Shame on cops who use any excuse to search a teen's phone for incriminating evidence.
I guess I should thank the author for pointing out this horrible miscarriage of justice. But I wish the lesson was one of changing the system, not scaring parents.
It reminds me of when a community found an old law prohibiting untethered horse carts and used it to outlaw skateboards. Only in that case the worst that would happen was a fine, he is talking about jail time!
The answer is we need to discourage abusive behavior with reason and proportion, not put innocent kids or adults in jail. This is pathetic.

Carinne said...

Scholz - you probably didn't read the preface close enough. The writer is a DEFENSE ATTORNEY - NOT a PROSECUTOR. He is defending these teens. While I agree that at times maybe the punishment is too severe, do you really want to say that someone who is distributing naked photos of underage children are innocent? Most kids today have no concept of accountability. Besides - when does it become OK to distribute naked photos of someone? Where do YOU want to draw the line? Is it OK if the person in the photo agrees? If the person you're sending the photo to agrees? That's the same argument that against statutory rape. Children can't by law give consent for those types of things.

You say these individuals are intending no harm. Would you still be defending it if it was your 13 year old daughter and her boyfriend was showing nude photos of her to all his friends?

Outlawing skateboards is completely different and shame on you for thinking that skateboarding and distributing pornography are equal wrongs. Its attitudes like yours that contribute to this problem and encourage teens to think that this is OK behavior.

Scholz said...

Carinne,
I am arguing that child pornography laws are designed to protect children from abusive adults.
Of course, there are going to be gray areas, how old is adult or child etc. Is there coercion, is there pressure, etc..
I agree that statutory rape is an interesting case. I would argue that cases of consensual photo exchanges be treated roughly the same.

I am not an attorney, so I don't know the exact penalties. But many states have Romeo and Juliet provisions so that similarly ages teens (or pre-teens) who give (non-legal) consent, and do not press charges against the other, are held to have committed less serious offense than when an adult abuses a child.
The idea that one should continue punish an adult who as a teen fooled around with her boyfriend is pretty absurd (especially if neither complains). Likewise the idea that one should be as holding onto child pornography as an adult for pictures taking consensually as a teen.
If my daughters send nude pictures to anyone, I would be pretty angry. Do I think the person who receives the pictures should go to jail, if it isn't an adult? No. I would want to talk to all those involved, and their parents. Just like if I catch them having sex before age 18. I wouldn't send them to jail, unless the elements of abuse, force or coercion where there, would you?

Carinne said...

Scholtz-
The point is that when you're dealing with digital photos, video, text, etc there is no way to control it. Someone takes a nude photo of their underage girlfriend, 1) there is no way to really know/prove that he actually had her consent and wasn't coerced and 2) once its digital it can suddenly be distributed all over the internet and it will never be contained or disappear. That's a horrible thing to have happen to someone against their will, knowledge, consent,etc.

I still stand by my statement that by defending the behavior you're contributing to it.

luke said...

Yeah Scholz I only use the law unjustly against minors when there is a pay check attached. No pro Bono tyranny for me : )
There is however a sticky point to this debate. There are two main reasons for the Strictness of child porn laws. 1) it is to prevent the sexual exploitation of child during the production of this material and 2) protect children by banning material which may arrose or even cause pedophilic-addiction or behaviors.

Then ask, is the exploitation of children via sexting compareable to that of traditional child porn? And does child porn produced via sexting distinguishable from the traditional type once it's been posted on the Internet etc.?

I think there are legislative solutions to these problems but frankly its politically dangerous to lead the charge softening child porn laws and I believe that a significant part of the USA is not sad about the current state of the law regarding child porn....or skate boarding.

Scholz said...

I am going to leave the discussion. I think there are some interesting issues. I hope people continue to discuss it. Carrine accused me of supporting child pornography, and I can't have a meaningful discussion in that context, especially after I clearly said I opposed that.
She also asked how I'd feel if my daughters were photographed nude presumably against their wills. I will leave her to think about what she'd do if she found one naked picture on her 15 year old son's phone. I can only assume she would report him to the local, state and federal authorities. If she didn't she would be as bad as me!

Carinne said...

Scholz
Sorry I offended you. I never accused you of supporting child pornography. I accused you of adding to the problem by saying 'there is no problem'. I guess I was just amazed that someone would think this was all 'no big deal'. Maybe I read your original comment in the wrong way. I took issue with 2 things you said in your original comment:

"This writer is so excited he found a way to prosecute young people who are intending no harm. Let's not conflate real predators and abusers with every teen with a naked photo on his or her phone."

1st - you were accusing the writer of something that he clearly was not doing. He's defending these kids - not trying to find ways to prosecute them.
2nd - the fact that you said they aren't intending harm and those who distribute nude photos and video against someone's will or consent or (in many cases) knowledge are not real predators.

Your statement is the reason why these kids do this. They don't believe its a big deal, wrong, illegal or harmful. By declaring that not only is it not harmful but also shouldn't be prosecuted, you are contributing to the problem. I'm still amazed by that.

Scribbit said...

I caught the tail of the comments late here but maybe I can help, Scholz--I think you maybe misread things because the writer isn't involved in prosecuting teens but defending. He's a defense attorney. Besides that, he works with intervention groups to educate teens about what the laws say and the risks teens run when they sext.

However, you are correct when you say that some states have different laws and different penalities. It's a state issue except when prosecuted as a felony, such as when it crosses state lines.

This post isn't really a comment on the morality of the law itself but a caution of one more reason that sexting is a dangerous affair.

It's not really fair to insinuate how a parent may or may not feel if their child were exploited and it, too is off point (Carinne).

Personally? I support stiff laws against pornography, drugs, etc. but do understand that when you have these stiff penalities--particularly with mandatory minimum sentencing and things like that--that you run the risk of over punishing and creating criminals through running decent kids who made dumb-yet-illegal mistakes through the penal system.

Unfortunately the system is flawed and the closer you come to trying to prepare for all eventualities the more you get diminishing returns.

But again, that's not really the point here--it's merely to show parents that sexting is legally dangerous. If this post wakes parents up to the things their kids are facing nowadays then I think it's been useful. Information is never a bad thing--and then if people such as you, Scholz, feel the laws are wrong then at least with a bit of knowledge they can lobby to have them changed, right?

If nothing else it may help us all to get an interest in what our own state's particular laws are on the subject and become better informed.

Thanks for your comments.

Mrs. Organic said...

Thank you for bringing attention to this issue - this generation of kids is far more tech savvy than we will ever be. It goes to show how important it is to talk openly with your kids, to listen, and to check up on them.

Anonymous said...

As a mother of teen boys, this is a major issue. Kids are clueless as to the ramifications of this particular activity. Not only should every parent read this, but every teenager with a cell phone!

Even though you are required to purchase a data plan if you buy a certain phone, you can still block both texting AND data from any phone on your plan. I blocked ALL data from our phones, and all texting on kids' phones.

If Verizon is going to require data plans, then I won't have a Verizon phone anymore after this contract is up, though as I refuse to pay for something I don't use.

I really think the law should be tweeked when it comes to minors and their girl/boyfriends. AFter all, in the '70's, it was boys with their parents' polaroid cameras taking pics of their girlfriends. Granted it didn't get distributed to the whole world via the internet, but it got shown around the local high school.

This is not a "new sin", but the technology adds some very dangerous elements.

dennis said...

glad to be visited in this blog..

luke said...

Here is a link to another blog article I did on how to use cell carrier parental controls and available parental monitoring services.

http://spectrum-legal.com/legal_blog/?cat=7

Luke Nichols

Heart2Heart said...

Michelle,

You would think this would be easy to control. Have the phone carriers block a phones ability to send pictures via text messaging.

The main problem is that these kids will still find other ways of distributing the pictures if not by cell phone, than digital pictures on their cameras and swapping memory sticks with their friends.

This is just one of the circumstances where technology is being used for criminal activities and not at all for what we designed it for.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Kim said...

Sentence that really stood out to me:

"What I find so disturbing about sexting is just how common it is, yet the only adults who seem to understand this are the police and prosecutors."

Wake up, parents!

Stephanie said...

Such an important issue...one that cannot be ignored. Thanks for getting these conversations going in homes across America.

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

Ruby said...

thanks for this article and to Luke for taking the time and effort to tell kids about the dangers.

JT said...

I agree that sexting, AKA 'sxting' is a huge problem, but it is more of an all-around problem. This article seems slanted more towards the idea that boys are the main culprit in this situation. With lines like:

" ... young girls being forcibly exposed and photographed by young men ... " and,

"I tell young men that when they take dirty photos of a girl, that girl has complete control over their fate."

In all fairness it should be stated that in certain cases it isn't always the implied boy who is the sole aggressor, forcing the female into situations that she doesn't want to be in or doesn't understand. In some cases it is the girls themselves that instigate the so-called sexting, sending a photo -- unasked for -- directly to the boy. Whether or not they think they are just being sexy, flirty, or even if they think that is what "couples" do for each other, it simply isn't always the fault of the young man in these cases. Some girls try to emulate the activities of their other female friends, sort of a "so and so sent a dirty photo to her BF, so I should do the same for mine" type of situation.

I'm only bringing this up so that it isn't just the parents of young boys who feel the responsibility to stop this sort of thing. Let your daughters know as well that sending off photos like that isn't just unacceptable, it's illegal.

I worked in the Anchorage school district for years, and I've seen this sort of activity among students as early as middle school, and that was some years back. I can only imagine how much worse it is now, with most kids carrying photos these days.

JT said...

By the way, while I'm here I might as well add my two cents about another long-standing problem, which is webcams. I'm sure all parents are aware by now of the dangers of letting your children go onto the internet unsupervised, but what you may not be familiar with is some of the new technology that makes it easier than ever for a child to get themselves into a dangerous situation.

There are websites these days that let you instantly start up a webcam show for a limitless group of strangers. A few clicks of the mouse and your kids could be the star of their own public cam show, and many of the viewers might be predators.

You don't have to actually purchase a separate camera these days, often they are built directly into laptops and netbooks, and some parents aren't even aware that the webcam is there.

Again, this isn't the behavior of years ago where you had to physically "add" someone to your MSN, or Yahoo programs before you could talk and webcam, these are simply internet sites that interact with the camera - and some of these newer sites are "anonymous", meaning you don't know who you are talking to until the video starts (and then in MANY cases your child will suddenly realize there is a naked adult on the screen).

This is a newer trend, and I'm sure your teens have already heard and probably participated in it, even if they didn't anticipate the chance they might see things they had no desire to see. Just ask them if they've ever heard of "Stick AM", or "Chatroulette".

Technology is changing so fast, it's hard to keep on top of this stuff. Just be aware.

Cheri said...

Wow, a very good article. Lots of info that I had no idea about. Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

This is a very important topic. However, the flip side of the real abuse of minors involved in many sexting cases is the prosecutorial abuse and widespread usurpation of parental rights by the government. More often than not, as some of the examples illustrate, the indiscretions of youth are treated as adult crimes would be treated. Bring a toy gun to school or point a pen at a fellow student and the sky falls in. Such cases in the past were treated with common sense as age-related lack of judgment and not, as in sexting cases, sex crimes or even federal sex crimes.

Clearly, we parents can be at fault for failure to teach standards, for defaulting this responsibility to schools and the law, or in some cases for the egotism of seeking legal vengeance for the poor judgment of other people's children against our own. REAL crimes should be punished with age-appropriate penalties - including juvenile prison if severe enough, or even adult in the truly evil cases. However, our current legal approach is wrong-headed and little more than abuse itself in many cases under the cover of law.

Anonymous said...

This is a very important topic. However, the flip side of the real abuse of minors involved in many sexting cases is the prosecutorial abuse and widespread usurpation of parental rights by the government. More often than not, as some of the examples illustrate, the indiscretions of youth are treated as adult crimes would be treated. Bring a toy gun to school or point a pen at a fellow student and the sky falls in. Such cases in the past were treated with common sense as age-related lack of judgment and not, as in sexting cases, sex crimes or even federal sex crimes.

Clearly, we parents can be at fault for failure to teach standards, for defaulting this responsibility to schools and the law, or in some cases for the egotism of seeking legal vengeance for the poor judgment of other people's children against our own. REAL crimes should be punished with age-appropriate penalties - including juvenile prison if severe enough, or even adult in the truly evil cases. However, our current legal approach is wrong-headed and little more than abuse itself in many cases under the cover of law.

Annie said...

My fifteen and twelve year old's have been lobbying for phones for a while now. And, seriously, they are the only kids know who don't have their own phones.

I have a hard enough time keeping up with their facebook pages, which I do allow them to have since there are so many adult friends and family members on there also who keep an eye on the content.

I appreciate this article, it gave me a lot to think and talk about with my kids.

Julie Holt said...

Interesting! Thanks for the informative article! I just saw this "related" article today in my local paper...! http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/crime/facebook-post-leads-to-teens-prosecuted

Patricia L said...

Funny, we recently got a cell for our daughter and these concerns were/are very real for me. We even typed up a contract and made her sign it...it's hanging in our kitchen so that we can refer to it often. I told my daughter it's not even that I don't trust her it's that I know the part of her brain that controls logic and reasoning isn't fully developed yet so things she might think are good ideas could have some hefty consequences.

Wendy E said...

My 14 year old has had a cell phone for 2 years now. We just got texting for them this year. I love the texting, but yeah am really debating on dropping the picture sharing capability she has for this reason.

I did send her this link when I found it and told her if she didn't read it I was taking the phone away completely. So, after some flack, she at least read it, so at least she knows about it. Now if only she will keep a level head. Yeah, I know, I can dream right?

Yvette Vignando said...

Thank you - this information is really important. We have three boys and I am sure that in some way this issue will raise itself. I am already amazed by what I see kids send as text messages to each other - not necessarily explicit but offensive in other ways.

A related area which is on the rise is the bullying via mobile phone (cellphone). We've not had this experience but I know other people who have. I think as parents we need to talk more to our kids about what they can do if they receive any threatening or uncomfortable text messages on their phone. Something I think about often is not over-reacting. If teens think their parents have a tendency to over-react to information then they are even less likely to tell us that they are receiving disturbing text messages.

But back to sexting - I guess this has become prevalent because it's a facade or protection behind which self-conscious teenagers can hide - or where it is bullying, then it's an opportunity for the bully to try and hide behind the technology.

We have allowed our two young teens to have 'phones but we are vigilant about their use and we try to talk to them about what they may and may not do with it. One thing we are clear on is that it is not okay to take ANY kind of picture with your phone and send it anywhere (let alone Facebook) without permission. We've talked about privacy and legal issues - but it's fair to say that there are no guarantees. I have my fingers crossed and will keep the communication lines open in hope!

Headless Mom said...

Thanks for this, Michelle. I'll be sending this to all of my friends! Our kids are on the young side (mostly 7-11 year olds,) and don't have phones yet but this is SO important to know going forward.

Fay said...

I'm grateful you posted this. It's very interesting to see where people fall out on this subject. --A thought: Just because this is an "old" sin, does that make it okay? And why on earth do we feel sorry for boys who take pictures of their girlfriends, even with consent (or vice-versa), and then distribute it to friends *knowing* that there is no way to stop it once it gets out there? I have absolutely NO SYMPATHY for ANYONE exploiting ANYONE, regardless of AGE or RELATIONSHIP. Teenagers have always had sex, that doesn't mean it's right, and that doesn't mean that I condone it.

Anonymous said...

My kids are too young to have their own phones, but when the time comes, they will be getting phones without picture-taking features!

BTW, can a teen refuse to show his phone to a police officer if he doesn't have a warrant?