A Closer Look at Sexting

Cell phones have created another dilemma, as sex and technology now intersect.

“Sexting” has become a popular practice among young teens who are sending sexually suggestive messages and images via their cell phones.

Officer Mike Morris, of the Lawrence Township Police Department, said they have handled about a dozen “sexting” cases this year. He noted that 90 percent of cases are handled by parents and school officials, however.

Morris said that he believes “sexting” has been dealt with more recently and also recognized as a problem.

“Children are not aware of the technology that they control. They have technology that can broadcast messages and images to others,” he said.

Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. said the issue was more isolated in the past. He said that in the past, reports came in form time to time.

“It’s become so prevalent,” said Shaw. “People need to be aware of what’s going on.”

The DA also said that technology has grown beyond what legislators planned for.

“That’s why is incumbent for police and prosecutors to address this issue appropriately.”

Shaw said that his office has recently been touring schools in Clearfield County and talking to administrations about the subject. He also gave a lot of credit to some area school districts for addressing the problem.

He said that one of the problems is that students think of the “here and now.”

“They don’t think of consequences or unintended consquences.”

In order to understand the crossroads between sex and technology in respect to teen attitude and behavior, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com conducted a survey of teens and young adults to explore their electronic activity.

The survey, which was done online, yielded 1,280 respondents— 653 teens (ages 13-19) and 627 young adults (ages 20-26)—between Sept. 25, 2008 and Oct. 3, 2008.

Twenty percent of teens overall, which included 22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys, have admitted to electronically sending or posting online – nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves. Even further, 11 percent of “young teen girls” who are between the ages of 13 to 16 years old also reported doing so, according to the survey.

However, the survey indicated that sexually suggestive messages by text, e-mail or instant messenger are even more prevalent than sexually suggestive images. The survey reported that 39 percent of all teens, 37 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys had sent or posted such messages. In addition, 48 percent of the teen respondents stated that they had received the same.

Teens are not only sending sexually suggestive content to their boyfriend/girlfriends, but also to those who they wish to hook up with or only know online.
Seventy-one percent of teen girls and 67 percent of teen boys reported that they have sent or posted such material to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“A lot of this is boyfriend/girlfriend. A lot is peer pressure. It’s their first step toward sex,” Morris said. “The majority is boyfriend/girlfriend and why 90 percent doesn’t get reported to police.”

The survey additionally indicated that 21 percent of teen girls and 39 percent of teen boys have sent sexually suggestive content to someone who they either have an interest in dating or hooking up with. And, 15 percent of all teens reported doing so to someone that they only know online.

Morris said that teens must realize how “sexting” will affect their lives, before they press send. He said that they must first consider how the content will affect their lives and that of those around them.

“They need to (ask themselves), is this something that I would want my parents or grandparents to see? Can I really trust the recipient,” he said.

“You cannot trust a young teen boy with a naked picture. He’s going to show his friends.”

According to the survey, 44 percent of both teen girls and boys indicated that it was common for sexually suggestive text messages to get shared with people other than the intended recipient. In addition, 36 percent of teen girls and 39 percent of teen boys say that it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with those other than the intended recipient.

Similarly, 38 percent of teen girls and 39 percent of teen boys reported that they have had sexually suggestive text messages or e-mails – originally meant for someone else – shared with them. Also, 25 percent of teen girls and 33 percent of teen boys say that they’ve had nude or semi-nude images – originally meant for someone else – shared with them.

Morris said that teens participate in “sexting” due to peer pressure and the need to “fit in.” He said the teens don’t believe that their boyfriend or girlfriend will share the pictures.

“They are hearing if you really love me, you’ll send a (sexually suggestive) picture. She thinks that she really loves him and sends it. Then, they’re no longer together and his buddy has it. It’s a big shock, especially if it’s the first big romance or crush,” he said.

He indicated that many teens who received sexually suggestive images transfer them to their computer. He said the pictures can be better viewed and password protected as a result. He also noted that they’re readily available.

Morris said the teens experience social ramifications from “sexting.” He said it results in reduced school attendance, as they don’t want to be made fun of and hear the cruelties.

“There are a lot of consequences other than parents and cops. It opens up a new realm of physical and social bullying. It’s a really big social issue for them to face. Adults don’t understand how it feels. They are too far divided from the teen generation to understand,” Morris said.

Shaw said there are three things his office tries to stress:
1.) When you engage in sexting you expose yourself to unintentional risk.
2.) Unintentional social consequences. These consequences do not include middle or high school, but also down the road, including college and job hunting. Shaw commented noted that when a picture is posted online, it’s there forever.
3.) “You want to make people aware of … the law says you’re not allowed to do this stuff.

Morris said that parents should not be afraid to be a parent. He said that they should be encouraged to check their child’s phone. He said they need to question if their son or daughter has erased messages or images.

“They should want to see their child’s picture history. If they don’t wish to share, then maybe their child isn’t mature enough for a cell phone,” he said.

Shaw said that parents need to be aware of the issue and to take action that they deem appropriate. Shaw said that each parent will know what they family needs are.

“Parents need to regulate cell phone privileges, monitor and talk to their child about usage. They need to protect their children from themselves,” said Morris.

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