Sexting : Not for your eyes only

Teen Sexting

Teen SextingThe headline I saw this weekend: Sexting scandal forces high school football team to forfeit its final scheduled game. If you’re not down with slang, “sexting” is the sending or receiving of inappropriate messages or pictures, either via texting, or via other social media site like Snapchat. This headline piqued my interest; obviously I had to read more.

To make a long story short: In Cañon City High School in Colorado, a bunch of students (1/2 of which were on the football team) were caught sending nude pics of other students. I have yet to see the specific number of people involved in this scandal, but all articles hint at over 100 males and females, and hundreds and hundreds of photos – it sounds like these nude photos were traded and collected like baseball cards. Wowza. And there is also talk of the teens use of photo vault apps to hide pictures and information from their parents. Who even knew that was a thing?

Now, would this be news if it didn’t involve enough football players to force a game forfeiture and squash their playoff hopes? I’m not sure. This happened in Colorado, but it could happen anywhere. In fact, it is happening everywhere.

Nearly 1 in 5 teens admit to sexting. While nearly 70% of teen boys and girls who sext do so with their girlfriend or boyfriend, 61% of all sexters who have sent nude images admit that they were pressured to do it at least once.

And you never know who else is seeing the picture: 17% of sexters share the messages they receive with others, and 55% of those who admit sharing messages also share them with more than one person. 38% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say they have had sexually suggestive text messages or emails—originally meant for someone else—shared with them. And once those images are shared, they are out in cyberspace for good (nothing is ever truly erased).

Sexting isn’t just harmless flirting, it is illegal if the subject of the photo is a minor. It is a felony to possess or distribute child pornography, and if found guilty, one may have to register as a sex offender. Now, what if the sexters are also minors, as is the case in Cañon City High School? What if you take a picture of yourself and send it to others – is that different from someone else passing around a picture of you? And since possessing child pornography is also a crime, do you punish the person who receives the unsolicited image but deletes it and doesn’t share with anyone else? Currently in the United States, 20 states have enacted bills to protect minors from sexting, and several states have “revenge porn laws” which relates to the publishing of explicit photos to the internet without the permission of the subject (click here to see Wisconsin’s law). Punishment varies from state to state. In Florida, the first offense results in a fine or community service, the second offense is a misdemeanor and a third offense is a felony. In Arizona, it’s not necessarily the number of offenses but the number of people you share the sext with:

Those who distribute the image to only one person are subject to a fine, as it is a petty offense. Those who distribute the image to more than one person are committing a misdemeanor. Sexting in Arizona is considered a misdemeanor for the juvenile that sends the picture and also the juvenile that receives the picture. If the juvenile that received the picture did not request it and either deleted it or reported it to an authority figure, they did not violate the law.

Obviously, it’s important to discuss the dangers of sexting with your teen. Tell them the potential consequences and legal ramifications. There are many articles published about teens who were victims of sexting that has gone public (click here and here for examples) – sharing these may give your teen more insight.

Phew (that’s the sound of me breathing a huge sigh of relief that sexting was not a thing when I was a teenager).

2 comments

  • I wonder how this is addressed with teens during healthcare visits? Should we be screening for this like we do other abusive and/or sexual activity?

    • Paula Cody, MD, MPH

      Health care providers should screen for sexting with their patients just like they do for other risk taking behaviors, including sexual activity, substance use, and safety. However, just because providers SHOULD screen, it does not mean that they DO screen. Ideally, conversations about sexting should occur in multiple settings, including at home, the health care provider’s office, and at school.