I have to admit that until a few weeks ago I had never heard of the term "sexting." While I pride myself on keeping up with current trends in the law, society and technology this big new thing that presents enormous threats to teenager especially those special needs flew under the radar screen, until the news story described below came across my desk.
We live in a time when the law has not yet caught up with technology. This tragic story highlights the fact that stricter rules need to be in place so that when incidents like this occur there is a plan in place to address the problem. Awful stories like these have brought about sweeping legislation, that in trying to solve every problem, which have created even more serious issues. With the passing of the Adam Walsh Act, which was to be enacted in all states by 2009, the girl from the above story could have been convicted as a juvenile sex offender and could have been put onto a registry for her entire life. This is not to take away from the tragedy suffered by this family but a caution that over- sweeping legislation can take many children, who it is supposed to be protecting with it. There need to be penalties for those who do break the law but also precautions so that those who were not meant to be punished do not end up with consequences that will follow them through life.
I had a occasion to share my concerns about sexting with an attorney friend who represents schools. She told me about a principal at a school, who in the process of investigating allegations of sexting harassment, collected evidence as an official part of his job. He was charge and prosecuted for child pornography and was ultimately vindicated but not until he was ruined professionally and financially. This story was shocking to me and also ironic. Schools often do not look at the intent of the student and take the facts at their most basic level in making disciplinary decisions. I hoped that professional attorneys-prosecutors could make that connection but apparently simple linear logic is not limited to schools.
Until the legal pendulum swings back to some semblance of balance between protecting children and not trapping the innocent and sometimes ignorant users of technology we all must take precautions:
1. do not allow any email transmissions of any photograph that could be considered sexual, no matter how innocent (e.g. naked baby bath shots);
2. be aware of who and when your children or students are the subject matter of a photograph;
3. hold in-services and public assemblies on the risks of sexting;
This problem is quite widespread and the risks are not well appreciated. A recent study showed that 30% of teenagers engage in sexting. Parents need to consider adding goals for internet safety to their chid's transition plan with certainly an objective on the subject of sexting. Here is another story of teens being charged with felonies for sexting.
[Nicole Jorwic contributed to this blog].