Police and prosecutors must crack down on illegal teen sexting wherever practical. But law enforcement is not likely to eradicate it.
Making inroads against inappropriate sexual messages and photos sent by electronic devices will require education, a deeper understanding of the pain this behavior can cause and an attitude adjustment on the part of those tempted to engage in it. That won’t be easy in an environment where just about anything goes in terms of material circulated electronically. But if young people can comprehend that the consequences can be catastrophic, maybe behavior will change.
The issue was highlighted recently with the arrest of a Fort Mill High School senior who was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor after police say he showed pictures and videos of him having sex with a girl, who was 17. At a news conference last week, 16th Circult Solicitor Kevin Bracket said that his office has dealt with several teen sexting cases in the past few months and that arrests will be made.
Fort Mill and Rock Hill school officials, Fort Mill Police Maj. Bryan Zachary and Chip Payne, commander of the S.C. Internet Crimes Against Children task force, also spoke at the news conference. School officials said they are upping their efforts to educate students and parents about the dangers of sexting.
A 2013 survey by the FBI indicated that 8 percent of middle and high school students had sent inappropriate pictures of themselves to others and 13 percent had received pictures from classmates. That is dangerous under any circumstances but far more so if minors are involved on either the sending or receiving end.
“In extreme cases, it can result in the person being registered as a sex offender,” said Zachary.
But the consequences aren’t confined to legal problems. Sexting that goes viral can ruin people’s lives and even prompt them to suicide.
Several instances have occurred in which sexually explicit photos were shared with a large group of students, leading to the humiliation and bullying of the person in the picture. In at least three cases, girls whose pictures were circulated ended up hanging themselves.
Bad judgment is a notorious teen affliction. But in regard to sexting, the results can last years or even a lifetime.
It’s important to understand that there is no way to ensure that a boyfriend or girlfriend will be the only one to see those photos or read those explicit messages. Before sexting, teens need to ask themselves if they want to share the text or photo with the world.
People are cruel, and even more so in a pack. Any teen who has experienced being humiliated and bullied by a gang of fellow students can testify that it is a horrible experience.
Sex offense charges usually are a matter of public record. Is that a stigma teens want to carry with them the rest of their lives, especially when applying for a job?
Teens aren’t the only ones who engage in inappropriate sexting (see Weiner, Anthony). But teens are likely to be less aware of the potential consequences and more vulnerable to them on a variety of levels.
We are glad to see that law enforcement and school officials have banded together to warn young people about this behavior and help them avoid mistakes. Smart phones aren’t going away, but teens need to avoid using them stupidly.