Friday, June 12, 2009

A Sign of the Times...."Sexting"

by Robin Sax

Sexting is a relatively new term in our lexicon, referring to the sending of a sex image through a text message (combine the word sex and “texting” and you get sexting). You may be surprised to find out that sexting can send a young person to jail. Even more, it can cause him/her to be convicted of the dissemination of child porn and be forced to register as sex offender -- for life.

In October of last year a Texas eighth-grader spent the night in a juvenile detention center after his football coach found a nude picture on his cell phone, sent by fellow student. In January of this year three western Pennsylvania high school girls were charged with child pornography for sending semi-nude cell phone pictures of themselves. Last month in Indiana a teenage boy was indicted on felony obscenity charges for sending a photo of his private parts via “sext” to several female classmates.

There is nothing new to the notion that technology has created a bucket-load of new crimes. But like everything else, the technology is ahead of legislators and the criminal justice system. If a 16-year-old girl willingly sends a naked picture of herself to her same aged boyfriend, are we shocked? It seems relatively harmless, right? Maybe… or depending on the jurisdiction and the prosecutor it could be considered a crime (that is, sending and possessing child porn). It all depends on which way you view it. Is it innocent child play or criminally dangerous behavior?

Taking it a step further, what happens when that 16-year-old boyfriend forwards that “sext message” to 100 people, or even just three of his closest friends? Besides the fact that it is mortifying to the young girlfriend (and invading her privacy), the boy could be subjected to charges of disseminating child porn, a crime that can includes jail and a l
ifetime registration as a sex offender. Now, I am not here to argue that the child should not be punished. Of course there should be consequences. But should that 16-year-old now be a registered sex offender? I say hell no!

We can argue whether or not the boyfriend’s actions should be considered criminal or merely a boyish prank. But the bigger issue is whether or not this 16-year-old can really be considered a sexual predator that belongs on a
sex registration list. I do believe the boy should be punished, charged with harassment, bullying, or whatever. Requiring registration, however, in this case only does one thing: undermines the sex offender registry. As parents and citizens, we need to know what we are talking about when we refer to sex offenders. Most people agree that this list should be reserved for the “true” predators and molesters who have a likely chance of recidivism (repeating the crime of seeking young victims as sexual prey). When you hear child porn you think an adult with pictures of a pre-pubescent or barely pubescent child. Not 16-year-olds sending pictures of themselves naked.

l states see my argument and agree. Here are some recent legislative developments around the country:

Vermont lawmakers introduced a bill in April 2009 to legalize the consensual exchange of graphic images between two people 13 to 18 years old. Passing along such images to others would remain a crime. In Ohio, a county prosecutor and two lawmakers proposed a law that would reduce sexting from a felony to a first-degree misdemeanor, and eliminate the possibility of a teenage offender being labeled a sex offender for years. In Cincinnati the proposal to lesson sexting was supported - even by the parents of Jessie Logan, an 18-year-old who committed suicide after a naked picture of herself (which she sexted) was forwarded to people in her high school. Utah lawmakers lessened the penalty for sexting for someone younger than 18 from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But more needs to be done; specifically in the areas of parenting and educating our teens. The
National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, a private nonprofit group whose mission is to protect children, along with, surveyed nearly 1,300 teens about sex and technology. The result: 1 in 5 teens say they have sexted even though the majority knows it could be a crime, they continue to do it.

So, friends, I ask you…where do you stand on what do about “sexting??” Let me know I what your me at


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Lauren said...

I think these kids need to be educated by their parents and in school about the how these pictures can last forever and get spread around. We should tell them the same thing about Myspace and Facebook pictures--once they're on there, they don't go away and can come back to haunt you. So they need to be told to think twice about what they're putting out there about themselves. Maybe we need to give them examples of adults who have lost jobs and had their reputations ruined because scandolous pictures surfaced (we could use the several beauty pageant winners in recent years who've had issues with this).

Leah said...

It is unfortunate that kids don't realize that what seems like fun now can end up hurting them later on.

I think it is wrong to register these kids as sex offenders. People tend to go overboard with issues like this.

Anonymous said...

Society's dulicity is quite telling in this issue. On one hand we dress up our kids in sexy clothes, inundate them through the media with sexaul images, behaviors, and innuendoes, and then expect them to understand why it is possibly inappropriate to take very personal pictures of themselves and send them out to anyone especially via the Internet.

We like our vices until they get out of control, or we feel someone else is not being responsible in how they manage them. Kids are having to sort out these mixed messages at the same time they are going through a period of life where their hormones are causing them to handle new emotions and impulses. Education is a good start, but good luck on that. It is one thing to tell children how they should act when society refuses to use any restraint itself in regard to sex (or drinking and drugs). Somewhere between Victorian prudishness and the constant barrage of sexual images and talk there has to be a healthy in-between. I think we as adults have become so indifferent to all the sexuality, we fail to notice how it is affecting our kids until they act out in some way that is shocking. Our laws can't possibly keep up with all the permissive and indulgent behaviors many feel they are entitled to express.

andy kahan said...


Great Post--The late great George Carlin would have had a field day with how we code our terminology.

I have been working with a company called Web Safety and we have come up with software for parents to utilize to combat sexting, cyber-bullying, driving while texting et al.

I would encourage all to check out the above site which gives parents back control and let's them know when sexting occurs.

FleaStiff said...

I fail to see how prosecutors who bring these charges ever get re-elected.

Professor Hale said...

The Vermont law changes is a good start but it becomes problematic with children along the age boundaries, just as it does for consentual sex involving minors. the 18 year orld with a 17 year old girl-friend.

The laws start with a noble premise of protecting children from sexual predation, but as children themselves become sexually active at younger ages, the justice system becomes more unjust in its application. And laws meant to protect children end up prosecuting children.

The solution is a hard look at what the role of government should be in regulating sexual behavior and staying away from arbitrary age limits.

Anonymous said...

I've read about this more and more. I also know that if a person is pulled over for DUI they always check their phones.

I've also heard of some people receiving nude photos from blocked numbers.

FYI - Trapcall lets you unblock the caller.

What a world, what a world.

Love your posts! You're Spot On! said...

Great Post Robin. I agree with the legislative suggestions, and further think that we all need to think more about WHY kids (and adults) "sext" in the first place. How much might be about identity development and the constant need to "be seen," perhaps combined with low self-esteem and a sense of worth only as an object. For a shrink's take on texting visit .

Namaste, Bruce