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Chief: Sexting Has Consequences

The Grafton Police Department cites statistics on the prevalence of sexting: and what parents can do to protect their kids.

Column by Grafton Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau Jr.

As we all know, cell phones are basically small computers that can transmit and receive information in many forms including voice, text, video and photographs.  Smart phones will access the internet and utilize the many applications available to the phone’s platform.  One of the many issues arising out of this smart technology is the use of these phones to transmit somewhat questionable messages and photographs in a practice known as sexting.

To help those parents who are unfamiliar with the use of cell phones for sexting and explain some of the pitfalls associated with this practice, the Grafton Police Department would like to offer the following useful information provided by Netsmartz.  These and other related safety tips may be found at http://www.netsmartz.org/Sexting.

When teenagers ask for cell phones, they usually want the coolest, trendiest cell phone on the market.  These days, that phone will have photo and video capabilities.  Put that together with the unlimited text messaging plan that your teen is sure to beg for and here comes possible trouble. Silly photos and embarrassing videos aside, cameras and texting have given young people a new and potentially dangerous way to explore their curiosity: sexting.

What is sexting?  Sexting is the exchange of sexually suggestive or nude images between minors via cell phone.  For example, a girl might take a nude picture of herself and send it to her boyfriend.  Her boyfriend may forward the picture to one or two friends, who then decide to forward the picture to others.  In this way, the girl’s picture could travel between many phones and have countless viewers in a very short period of time.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “1 in 6 teens (ages 12-17) with a cell phone have received a sexually suggestive image or video of someone they know.”  Please note that sexting does not include situations in which young people send sexually explicit images of themselves to adults.  These adults are predators and the incident should be reported to law enforcement immediately. 

Sexting consequences:  Teens caught sexting may be charged with the production, distribution, and/or possession of child pornography—all federal crimes.  They may have to face time in juvenile detention and/or placement on a state’s sex offender registry.  However, many lawmakers agree that these are not appropriate punishments for the majority of teens caught sexting.  Some states have modified their laws to address sexting behavior by adding consequences more appropriate for teens, such as classes and community service.

Teens who sext may also face severe social and academic consequences.  Some have been removed from athletic teams and suspended from school for sexting. Others have been teased, humiliated, and harassed when their private pictures were forwarded around their schools and communities.

In addition to these immediate consequences, teens may also face trouble down the line.  The photo may resurface during Google searches by college admissions officers, employers, friends, and significant others.  The photo may also find its way into the hands of online sexual predators and be passed around for years after the teen has become an adult.

Understanding teens and sexting:  When asked about why teens may sext, a group of high school students gave answers which ranged from “Well, I think some people are pressured into it by their boyfriends or girlfriends…” to “A lot of times I’ve seen it as a joke.”  Teens may also sext as a way to explore the physical side of their relationships, to demonstrate love, or to fit in with friends.  No matter the reason why they sext, it is important to help teens understand that if they press “send,” they will lose control over the picture forever. 

Help protect children from sexting

  • Before buying your child a cell phone, set rules for its use, including what sort of information and images are appropriate to share via text.
  • Know what safeguards are available on your child’s phone, such as turning off and/or blocking texting and picture features.
  • Talk to your child about the possible social, academic, and legal consequences of sexting. They could face humiliation, lose educational opportunities and get in trouble with the law.
  • Encourage your child to not be a bystander or an instigator.  If he or she receives a “sext,” discuss why it is important that he or she not forward the image to anyone else.  
  • Remind your child that they can talk to you if they receive a nude picture on their cell phone.
  • Talk to your child’s school about its policies on cell phones, cyberbullying, and sexting.
  • Report any nude or semi-nude images that your child receives to the police or contact www.cybertipline.com.  

Anyone with questions for the Chief’s Column may submit them by mail to the Grafton Police Department, 28 Providence Road, Grafton, MA 01519.  You may also email your questions or comments to chief@graftonpolice.com.  Please include an appropriate subject line, as I do not open suspicious email for obvious reasons.  

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