When it comes to sexting, freelancer Emily Brown said it all with, “Strip, snap, send—it’s the tech age version of the love note . . .” Yes, indeed, this marriage of the words sex and texting translates to sexually explicit material being sent, received, and/or forwarded via an electronic device, such as a mobile phone. And we’ve known that for long time now.
Who, for instance, can ever forget Anthony Weiner, the former–and very much disgraced New York representative–who finally admitted to posting a compromising photo of himself on Twitter apparently meant only for the eyes of a Seattle woman? In the end, of course, he acknowledged sexting at least six women over three years’ time, saying, “This was me doing a dumb thing, doing it repeatedly, and lying about it.” And married, no less.
Nevertheless, a Marist poll of NYC voters found that 51% said he should remain in office, with 61% saying he’d acted inappropriately, and 30% saying, “It’s common for politicians to send lewd pictures of themselves on the Internet.” Really, and so it goes.
Meanwhile, last year, too, but closer to home, seven students at Susquenita High School, outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were accused of taking, sending, or receiving nude photos of each other—and, in one case, a short oral sex video. The result: a felony pornography charge.
Then again last year but this time right here in Montgomery County came news that a topless photo of a freshman girl at Phoenixville Area High School had made the rounds to other students, something she’d never intended. Said Superintendent Alan D. Fegley, “They don’t understand the potential ramifications.”
About such cases, Drexel University’s Dr. Rob D’Ovidio had this to say: “Your guard is down; your perception is that you’re anonymous, and you’re going to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do in the physical world.” But, in Pennsylvania, doing so, he adds, “equates to being guilty of making child pornography. Anyone, of any age, caught having a copy or sending one is guilty of possession and distribution.”
And for that very reason, Pennsylvania legislators, spurred on by Representative Seth Grove, stepped in with a bill that, while punishing kids for sexting, lessens the punishment from a felony to a misdemeanor or summary offense. The good news: his House Bill 815 was just signed into law by Governor Corbett as Act 198 of 2012.
Said Representative Grove, “Law enforcement agencies from across Pennsylvania are in favor of this legislation, and I thank them for their assistance in helping to bring this new law to fruition. Our goal has always been to send the message to teens that this behavior is illegal, while also saving them from a lifetime of the negative effects of a felony prosecution as a sexual offender. I believe this legislation is a suitable balance to achieve this objective.”
However, not everyone agrees. Take, for instance, the Juvenile Law Center which says, “HB 815 claims to protect teens from possible exploitation by authorizing the arrest, humiliation, and saddling of children with a criminal record, as well as needlessly costing families thousands in unwarranted legal fees. District attorneys will now have the power to prosecute any teen who sends or receives a nude or partially nude photo of themselves or another teen, even when it is consensual and even though it is merely the 21st century version of the 20th century Polaroid.”
Is that all sexting is, then, an updated version of a Polaroid, or something far more unsettling? You decide. Either way, if you’ve got kids, continue to offer them your good counsel, role model appropriate behavior, and monitor their screen time of all sorts. One way to do that is via KidSafe.me which offers parents “smart tools to keep our kids safe,” and explains that it’s “a parent’s window into their children’s online activities and mobile phone usage.”
After all, while not that pervasive as of yet, the number of kids engaging in sexting behaviors should give parents everywhere pause. Take, for instance, the 2008 TRU study of 653 teens, ages 13 to 19, and 627 young adults, 20 to 26, that found that: )
- 33% of the young adults send or post nude or semi-nude images of themselves.
- 20% of the teens do so.
- 59% of the young adults send or post sexually suggestive messages.
- 39% of the teens do so.
Meanwhile, a July 2012 University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston survey of nearly 1,000 high schoolers found that:
- 28% have sent a nude picture of themselves electronically;
- 57% have been asked to send a nude picture; and
- 31% have asked that a nude picture be sent to them.
Bottom line: Be watchful and knowledgeable about your child’s online and mobile phone conduct. Sure, the law has been softened, but sexting is still illegal. Moreover, a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study confirms that teens who engage in sexting are likelier to be sexually active, so there’s good cause for concern and vigilance.