Thanks in part to high profile child pornography cases, and recently Brett Favre, sexting has become a part of the way the we express our sexuality, young and old(er) alike. Sexting refers to the act of sending messages and/or images via text messaging. Posting pictures and/or messages over the internet can be considered sexting as well. A recent study found that 20 percent of teens (ages 13-19), 22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys, has sent nude or semi-nude images of themselves or posted them online.[i] Another study reported that 1 in 6 teens (ages of 12 and 17) have received nude or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.[ii] Teens are not the only ones ‘sexting’ either, adults are sexting as well.
Virginia has seen its share of sexting cases in the past few years. Last year two boys, ages 15 and 18, in Spotsylvania County were charged with possession of child pornography. The boys had pictures of three girls, ages 12, 13, and 16.[iii] Five teens have recently been charged in Rocky Mount, VA under child pornography charges as well. Possession and/or distribution of child pornography is a felony in the state of Virginia.
Teens may ‘sext’ with their partner and that message(s) may be private until the relationship is ended, then the picture(s) me be spread to friends or over the internet. Some may be blackmailed or otherwise intimidated into cooperating.[iv] They may also send pictures as a way of flirting. As we have seen with Favre, sexting can also be a form of harassment. Sex is often viewed as a method to obtain partners, or keep them, to attain status (more for boys than girls), and so, teens may feel (or be pressured) that participating is the way to be loved and feel attractive.
Having your private images spread to friends, throughout your school, and/or over the internet can be just as devastating as being assaulted. It is a clear violation of one’s bodily integrity. The victim may have consented to the picture being sent to their partner, but they didn’t intend for it to be spread around school. Jesse Logan, a teen, in Ohio committed suicide after a ‘sext’ she sent to her boyfriend was forwarded around her school after the two broke up. Logan was repeatedly harassed and called a ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ by other teens at her school because of the pictures.[v]
How do we prevent ‘sexting’?
We talk about it.
Talk to your kids about ‘sexting;’
- the Dangers (someone else could see it, how quickly images can spread);
- the Law (it may be considered child pornography and thus illegal);
- Healthy sexuality (consent, coercion, trust);
- Communication (between you and your child, and your child and his/her friends/partners).
Begin early in your child’s development building a foundation for open and honest communication with them. This will ensure, or at least make it more likely, that when there is a problem that they will feel comfortable coming to you about it. This will also aid in their other relationships (friends and partners).
I think that it is important to remember that as our society changes, in this case change is expedited via technology, that sexuality and social interaction will change as well. As a whole, we are all under virtually constant surveillance and are also bombarded with images from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. From the security cameras in stores to 24-hour news service, from GPS to Instant Messaging on our phones, our images are no longer private. This mixed with the nature of adolescent identity forming leads to unhealthy boundaries and expectations. This is not to say that ‘sexting’ should be encouraged, but rather that when teens participate (assuming there is no coercion) that we should be understanding and not judgmental. We need to talk to our kids about healthy sexuality, when we don’t we get ‘sexting’ and assault.
In its 2004 Teens and Parents project, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, “found that 45% of teens had a cell phone. Since that time, mobile phone use has climbed steadily among teens ages 12 to 17 — to 63% in fall of 2006 and to 71% in early 2008.”
Clearly, kids are going to continue have phones and technology is going to evolve and so will the ways in which individuals interact, and thus how we can be hurt.
[iii] Coffey, C. (2009, March 12). More charges could come in sexting case. Retrieved from http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/031209_spotsylvania_sexting_case
[iv] Englander, E.K. (2010, January 18). ‘Sexting’ blackmail. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2010/01/18/sexting_blackmail/