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Sexting: It's Illegal and Dangerous

Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photos, or images via cell phone, computer, or other digital device. It is illegal if the sender/receiver is underage and the pictures are of underage individuals and is resulting in child pornography charges being filed against teens across the nation.

One news station in Montana recently reported that teen sexting is a growing problem in the state. In Montana, teens that receive explicit pictures of other teens can get charged with possession of child pornography.

Teen Sexting is Illegal

Bryan Fischer of the Montana ICAC Task Force summed it up well when he said, “Kids don’t know that it’s illegal, and the message is to let them know they’re committing a felony in the State of Montana.”

Massachusetts has similar laws. The Web site of the Berkshire District Attorney says:

In addition to the potential jail sentence and/or fine imposed by a Judge, a conviction for the offenses described above may require registration with the Sex Offender Registration Board for the next 20 years. Furthermore, the court may order the forfeiture and destruction of the computer or digital devices used.

These examples from Montana and Massachusetts are only two of a myriad of other stories that could be cited across the nation.

Sexting is Widespread

It is incredibly easy for teens to send sexually explicit videos and photos by phone. And, once these messages are sent, the sender has no control as to what the receiver can do with them. These videos and photos can be widely distributed and destroy the life of the originator. For example, one teen committed suicide because she was taunted about a nude photo she sent to her boyfriend.

It is critical for parents and children to understand the dangers of sexting, especially considering the following statistics from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (1300 teens):

  • 71 percent of teen girls and 67 percent of teen boys who have sent/posted sexually suggestive content say they have sent it to a boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • 51 percent of teen girls say pressure from a guy is a reason they send sexually suggestive messages or images. Only 18 percent of teen boys cite pressure from female counterparts as a reason.
  • 1 in 5 teens say they’ve “sexted” even though the majority knows it could be a crime.

Guarding Teens’ Digital Reputation

It is critical that we teach teens to create a positive digital reputation that will benefit them in the future. Nothing sent online or by cell phone is really private. What youth post and send today will follow them to future academic and employment opportunities.

Samuel Hislop is a regular contributor to the official internet safety blog of the iKeepSafe Coalition.You can learn more about child internet safety and ethics by visiting iKeepSafe.org.

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