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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sexting overblown? Yes and *no*

Not having heard the term "sexting" before the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed her, one 17-year-old referred to the practice of sending nude images of one's self or peers on phones as "lame" and plain-old drama creation. Her comment "echoes a view shared by sexual-health educators, teen advocates and academics gathering in San Francisco [last] week for Sex Tech, a conference that promotes sexual health among youth through technology. They believe that the sexting 'trend' is a cultural fascination du jour and is way overblown," the Chronicle reports. But, they indicate, it's also a very risky way to act out normative sexual curiosity (if that's what's involved and not peer pressure or bullying).

Where minors are concerned, sexting is definitely not overblown. Besides the psychological consequences of teens having intimate photos of themselves sent or posted anywhere, anytime, in perpetuity, the practice is illegal. Under current child pornography laws, taking, sending, and receiving nude photos of minors is production, distribution, and possession of child pornography. Right now these laws are extremely black-and-white and don't distinguish between sexting and "traditional" child porn trafficking. The piece in the UK's Daily Mail I blogged about last week suggests that sexting is becoming a social norm, and a recent survey said a third of young adults and 20% of teens had posted nude or semi-nude photos or video of themselves (which also means 80% haven't, sex educators pointed out in the Chronicle). The 20% figure seems high, but even if sexting is becoming normative, the bottom line is: the law hasn't caught up with the norm and - as long as bullying is, if not a norm, a reality of adolescent life - where teens are involved, concern about sexting is justified! They need to be educated about both the legal and psychological consequences (see also "The Net effect"). My hope is that law enforcement people called in by schools to deal with these cases will treat them as "teachable moments" and play an educational role - not send these cases to prosecutors. [Last week I blogged about a wise district attorney who does not want them to reach his desk.]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think new laws need to be written immediately.

Under the current laws, all anyone has to do is obtain someone's email address or cell phone number to destroy them. An anonymous, unsolicited picture of a naked minor sent via email or to a cell phone followed by a tip to the authorities could turn someone into an immediate felon and effectively ruin them. There is no burden of proof past the posession of the picture, and this is a serious problem. I don't readily have a suggestion to correct this, but it it scary to think what someone could do to you if they were determined to make your life hell.

Concerning kids sending pictures between themselves...why not let any restrictions be based upon the age-of-consent laws in the state they reside? There could be other consequences, but make them a misdemeanor, with an option to expunge criminal records upon the age of majority and after following counseling concerning their decsion.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe this is a decision that must be made based on the particular state. Although I dont commit sexting, I feel this is better than having unprotected sex and things like that.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that teens and young adults who partake in sexting should absolutely be notified that it is illegal, because many of these people don't know. I think that rather than prosecuting the few that do 'sext', they should rather make it very clear beforehand that it is a federal offense.

5:13 PM  

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