Sexting: “Most people don’t think it’s that big of a deal anymore”
The New York Times ran a thoughtful and extensive series of articles on sexting during the weekend. According to one of the stories, sexting is now mostly a middle school phenomenon. By the time they reach high school, most teens are more interested in dirty text messages. With that thought in mind, here are some highlights:
But adults face a hard truth. For teenagers, who have ready access to technology and are growing up in a culture that celebrates body flaunting, sexting is laughably easy, unremarkable and even compelling: the primary reason teenagers sext is to look cool and sexy to someone they find attractive.
Indeed, the photos can confer cachet.
“Having a naked picture of your significant other on your cellphone is an advertisement that you’re sexually active to a degree that gives you status,” said Rick Peters, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney for Thurston County, which includes Lacey. “It’s an electronic hickey.”
The school was buzzing. “When I opened my phone I was scared,” recalled an eighth grader. “I knew who the girl in the picture was. It’s hard to unsee something.”
Meanwhile, another middle school principal had begun investigating a sexting complaint that morning. Ms. Rae realized that Margarite’s photo had gone viral.
Students were summoned to Ms. Rae’s office and questioned by the police. Their cellphones were confiscated.
When Jennifer, who works for an accountant, arrived at the school, she ran to Isaiah, a tall, slender boy with the startled air of an unfolding foal. He was weeping.
“I was in shock that I was in trouble,” he recalled during a recent interview. “I didn’t go out of my way to forward it, but I felt responsible. It was bad. Really bad.”
He told the police that the other girl had pressured him into sending her Margarite’s photo, vowing she just wanted to look at it. He said he had not known that their friendship had disintegrated.
How had the sexting from Margarite begun? “We were about to date, and you’ll be like, ‘Oh, blah blah, I really like you, can you send me a picture?’ ” Isaiah recalled.
“I don’t remember if I asked her first or if she asked me. Well, I think I did send her a picture. Yeah, I’m pretty sure. Mine was, like, no shirt on.
“It is very common,” he said. “I’d seen pictures on other boys’ cellphones.”
After school had been let out that day in late January, the police read Isaiah his rights, cuffed his hands behind his back and led him and Margarite’s former friend out of the building. The eighth graders would have to spend the night in the county juvenile detention center.
The two of them and a 13-year-old girl who had helped forward the photo were arraigned before a judge the next day.
Officials took away Isaiah’s clothes and shoes. He changed into regulation white briefs and a blue jumpsuit. He was miserable and terrified.
When that sexually explicit image includes a participant — subject, photographer, distributor or recipient — who is under 18, child pornography laws may apply.
“I didn’t know it was against the law,” Isaiah said.
Adults in positions of authority have been debating how to respond. Many school districts have banned sexting and now authorize principals to search cellphones. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 26 states have tried to pass some sort of sexting legislation since 2009.
“The majority of states are trying to put something in place to educate kids before and after the event,” said Justin T. Fitzsimmons, a senior attorney at the National District Attorneys Association who specializes in Internet crimes against children. “We have to protect kids from themselves sometimes. We’re on the cusp of teaching them how to manage their electronic reputations.”
But if the Lacey students were convicted of dissemination of child pornography, they could be sentenced to up to 36 weeks in a juvenile detention center. They would be registered as sex offenders. Because they were under 15, however, after two years they could petition a court to remove their names from the registry, if they could prove they no longer posed a threat to the public.
Read the complete story, A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives, here.
Then read States Struggle with Minor’s Sexting here.
Next check out Professor Susan Hanley Duncan’s law review article entitled A Legal Response Is Necessary for Self-Produced Child Pornography: A Legislator’s Checklist for Drafting the Bill here
Finally, read the kid’s views about sexting, What They’re Saying About Sexting, here (“There’s a law? I didn’t know that. How would you catch somebody when everyone does it?”)
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