Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sexting

At age 19 Philip Alpert registered as a sex offender. A year earlier he was arrested and charged with transmitting child pornography. When he broke up with his 16 year old girlfriend, he mass texted a nude picture of her to a network of 70 people including the girl’s parents. After being charged with the crime of transmitting child pornography, Alpert is sorry for what he did, however, he stated: “I didn’t cause trauma to her. I didn’t ruin her life. I embarrassed her.”

Though many people consider the charge of transmitting child pornography a harsh punishment for teenage sexting, arguing that the child had willingly taken the picture, Alpert’s comment suggests that he is still unaware of the depths of the consequences of his actions. A similar situation took place in Cincinnati, OH around the same time as Alpert’s offense. Jesse Logan’s boyfriend sent a nude picture of her to her high school peers upon their break up. Jesse was viciously teased. She tried to overcome this incident but eventually committed suicide.

Jesse’s suicide is haunting. It tells us that sexting, whether intentional or unintentional can have traumatic effects. What can start off as a seemingly harmless exchange between two people can turn into something with life-altering consequences.. The fact that an offender of this crime admits guilt but makes light of the situation is a sign that awareness and education is much needed on this subject.

A survey done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and www.cosmogirl.com reported that ‘1 in 5 teens — and one-third of 20-somethings — have electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves.’ The report also concludes that “40% of teens and 60 percent of young adults — are “sexting,” sending raunchy messages via text, e-mail or instant message to each other.” These numbers are disturbing especially since data on such crimes is usually underreported due to fears of embarrassment by victims. In most cases, adults of authority like parents and teachers are not aware of the situation. Jesse Logan’s mother says that she only knew “bits and pieces, until the very last semester” when the school notified her of her daughter’s poor attendance. Would the consequences be different if Jesse’s mother had been aware of the situation from the beginning? No one can answer that question definitively. However, chances are that the consequences may have been different if all three parties involved; the bullies, the texter, and the victim, were counseled by specialists on the matter and Jesse had been taken out of the torturous environment.

With 40% of teens and 60% of young adults abusing each other via texts, technology is becoming the catalyst for a growing epidemic. The only way to deal with this is with prevention. Jesse’s story and those like hers need to be told again and again so teens and young adults are aware of their action’s possible consequences. A law also needs to be made solely addressing this issue so the problem is seen as a serious crime and not a teenage act of testing boundaries. Another effective way of reaching the target group would be to include sexting, teen dating abuse, and domestic violence in school curriculum along with sex education. Since this crime is new, adults along with teens need to be educated of the severity of such crimes.

Unfortunately, sexting cannot be prevented just by taking away a teen’s cell phone. Pictures can be sent via the web and can land on social networking sites like Facebook, forever scarring the victim. The first step towards prevention is making teens aware that such pictures should never be taken or exchanged, even in trusted relationships.

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