According to a new report published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine , more than half of all respondents in a recent evaluation of teen “sexting” trends reported that they had been asked to send nude photos of themselves to other teens, with more than a quarter of the respondents stating that they had sent nude photos of themselves to other adolescents.
The report, Teen Sexting and Its Association With Sexual Behaviors, entailed a longitudinal study involving 848 high school students in seven high schools in southeast Texas. The mean age of the respondents was 15.8, with a majority of the population consisting of 10th and 11th grade students.
Researchers found that 28 percent of the sample population reported having sent a nude photo of themselves via “sext” - a sexually explicit e-mail or text message, usually sent and received via a cell phone or smart phone. An additional 31 percent of the sample population said that they had asked someone to send them a sext, with 57 percent of respondents reporting that they had been asked by someone to send them a sext.
According to researchers, juveniles who engaged in sexting were much likelier to have begun dating and have sex than those who have never sent a sext. Additionally, researchers indicated a “significant association” between sexting behaviors and risky sexual activities - like having multiple sex partners and taking drugs or alcohol before having sex - for female respondents.
Among females in the sample population that had not sent a sext, 42 percent reported having sex, while 77 percent of females in the sample that had sent a sext reported engaging in sexual activity. Of the female respondents that said they were “not bothered” when asked to send a sext, approximately 96 percent of them reported that they have engaged in sexual activity.
Researchers said that although sexting is a common occurrence among adolescents, it’s not necessarily seen as “condoned” behavior among youth.
“On the contrary, we found that teens are generally bothered by being asked to send a naked picture,” the report stated. “In fact, nearly all girls were bothered by having been asked. Even among boys, more than half were bothered at least a little by having been asked.”
Researchers conclude that since the average age of cell phone ownership has gotten younger, there’s a possibility that “sexting” could become a more frequent occurrence among younger juveniles.
“It is essential that pediatricians, adolescent medicine specialists and other health care providers become familiar with, routinely ask about and know how to respond to teen sexting,” the authors of the report advise.
The journal Pediatrics has published a new study on the prevalence of teens sending sexually explicit texts and nude images of themselves to other teens. The study reports that 2.5 percent of children interviewed age 10 to 17 have appeared in or created somewhat or nearly nude photographs or videos. However, only one in 100 has created images that are sexually explicit enough to be considered a breach of child pornography laws, such as showing breasts, genitals or bottoms.
The study, published Dec. 5th, is based on 1,560 in-depth telephone interviews with minors. It is one of the largest surveys yet to examine the subject.
Due to some high-profile cases in recent years in which teenagers were arrested for forwarding nude pictures of other minors to friends and peers, the issue has gathered national focus. But the study shows the practice is not widespread among teens and is actually more prevalent among young adults than minors.
Janis Wolak, a senior researcher at the Crimes Against Children Research Center in New Hampshire told the New York Times, “It only takes one or two cases to make people think this is very prevalent behavior. This has been reported as if it were something that everyone was doing, not just the teen population but in the young adult population. It’s really not the case.”
This study supports her point as only 7.1 percent of the youths interviewed said they had received images that included partial or full nudity and only 5.9 percent reported that they had forwarded images.
One third of the messages were sent or created when drugs or alcohol was involved, pointing to a larger problem involving high-risk behavior. In most cases, when asked about the motivations behind sending the messages, those interviewed said it was not with malicious intent, and that most of the time it was with someone they were in a relationship with.
In June, JJIE reported on the legal consequences of sexting for teens (and the relatively lighter consequences for sexting politicians) and the New Jersey bill that would stress education over prosecution for teens caught sexting.
A bill moving through the New Jersey Legislature would force kids caught sending sexually explicit photographs and videos through their cell phone to attend an intense education program rather than face prosecution. The measure, A-1561, passed the Assembly 78-to-0 in March and now moves to the state Senate for final approval.
“Sexting,” as the practice is known popularly, has recently been in the news thanks to U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) who was caught sending lewd photos of himself to female constituents. As JJIE.org reported recently, Weiner will likely face fewer consequences than many teens found sexting, who may face child pornography charges.
“Teens need to understand the ramifications of their actions, but they shouldn’t necessarily be treated as criminals,” Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), a co-sponsor, told NewJerseyNewsroom.com.
The education program would teach participants about the possible legal and social consequences of sexting. Juveniles who successfully complete the education program would not face trial.
A second co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Cumberland), said the measure would help kids who make a mistake not “pay for it in court.”
In many states, however, teens who send pictures of themselves to their own girlfriends or boyfriends can be prosecuted for child pornography.
Allyson Pereira calls that hypocrisy. She should know. She’s spent six years dealing with the consequences of “sexting” one topless image of herself to an ex-boyfriend.
Allyson was 15 at the time, and the boy said he’d date her again if she’d send him the photo. But he was playing her. According to Allyson, he sent the private image to his entire contact list.
For the next three years at Wallkill Valley Regional High School in northern New Jersey, she was bullied and ostracized. Paint cans were thrown in her family’s pool. A tire was rolled down their driveway, smashing a glass door to the house.
“It’s actually made me stronger,” she said in an interview with JJIE, “but there were times when I really was suicidal. If it hadn’t been for my family and one or two friends, I wouldn’t be here today.”
“I can’t even tell you what it was like to live with that,” her mother says. “These kids can be so cruel to each other.”
But Allyson and her family were afraid to report the situation to police because Allyson could have been prosecuted for sending child pornography — of herself.
In an effort to protect children, both Congress and state legislatures have passed tough criminal laws designating the electronic distribution of nude images of teenagers as child pornography and often requiring those convicted of “sexting” to be registered as sex offenders. The problem is that a net thrown by the legal system to catch adults who exploit children is now more effective at ensnaring children.
Most states now require youths who send nude or semi-nude images of minors to be criminally prosecuted. Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among those where teenagers as young as 13 have been prosecuted or convicted for sexting.
One of those teens was Phillip Alpert of Orlando, Fla. At 3:28 in the morning after an argument with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Phillip, who had just turned 18, sent a semi-nude image of the girlfriend to her contact list. Her parents reported his actions to the police, who descended on his house with a search warrant.
Phillip faced 72 charges of various sorts, including the possession and distribution of child pornography. He was kicked out of school and, after pleading guilty, placed on probation for three years.
Most troubling of all, he’ll be listed as a sex offender until he’s 43. In Florida, that means he must tell the state when and where he moves; he can’t live near any schools, parks or playgrounds; and his offender’s status will show up on any Internet search of his name.
So believe me when I say, when it comes to sons, I’ve seen it all.
Still, there’s one thing that never gets easier, that’s seeing them fall in and out of love and having to deal with all the challenges in between.
One of my boys was a freshman in high school when he fell hard for another girl in his class.
Let’s call her… Bunny.
Before you can say “high school romance,” I was driving the two lovebirds to the local movie theater. I felt like a low-class limo driver in my mom-van as the two smooched in the back seat all the way to the mall. But as I watched the show in the rear view mirror, I was proud of my boy for keeping his hands in sight at all times and treating Miss Bunny with respect.
Innocent enough, so far, but this phase did introduce us to a whole new world of boy-girl interactions. He had older brothers around at the time, so they were the first ones I accused when I found a condom (still in its wrapper, thank God), in the front yard. None of the older boys fessed up, but Beau Romeo said, “Oh, that’s Bunny’s.” Sitting him down for a stern talking to about 14 being a way-too tender age to engage in anything as serious as sex, I was less than thrilled with his blasé attitude about the condom issue.
“Bunny’s mom got pregnant when she was a teenager and she doesn’t want her to mess up her life,” he said. “Every time we go anywhere, she shoves a condom at Bunny.”
Weird mom behavior if you ask me. But Bunny’s mom should have been much more concerned about what I discovered on my boy’s computer one day when browsing around. We have computer rules in place at our home, such as having it located in the dining room where everyone walking by can have a peek at what you are up to. And, all of our seven sons know that Mom and Dad will be checking up on where they’ve been on the Internet. No porn for us, please!
So you can imagine my horror when one day while checking into Boy Romance’s picture folder, I discovered a full-frontal nudity shot from our dear Bunny. It was T.M.I. (too much information) in the hugest sense and I felt like I wanted to scrub my eyeballs after viewing Bunny’s “assets.” Because of the content of the talk, Hubby had to take this one. Lucky him. And the chat focused on three issues that we saw with this behavior now known as “sexting:”
- Emailing sexual pictures back and forth to each other is NEVER considered proper dating technique.
- The pictures are available for anyone in our household (including our 7-year-old twins all the way up to our 25 year-old) to enjoy. Temptations like that should never be available in our household on a computer used by every young man in the house.
- “Sexting” is a crime that could land both parties (especially Bunny) in front of a grim-faced judge.
As concerned parents, both Hubby and I started doing our homework on this teen phenomenon and came up with some research recently published by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
This report really opened our eyes to the temptations that exist and that we need to warn our young men about. When we were teens there was no such thing as an Internet, cell phones that took pictures or videos or the email technology to send suggestive photos.
If I were a parent of a young woman right now I’d be freaking out because almost three-quarters of them have sent sexually provocative photos out through the Internet. Wow.
With the knowledge that almost 90 percent of us are online (says the National Campaign) and more than 255,000,000 of us own cell phones in America, I realized that’s a LOT of pictures of nude children. So, here’s the bare bone of what we’ve told our platoon of boys about this issue:
- Sexting is illegal and will never be tolerated in our home.
- Treat girls with respect at all times. No matter if they’re three, thirty or ninety-three, girls are to be treasured. And, this especially includes their reputation.
- We will be monitoring everything you do in our house. We have full access to your computer, your email, and your cell phones. We WILL be looking at photos you have stored on all of your devices.
- If we find any inappropriate items in any device, you will lose the privilege of owning that device. (This last one is a threat worse than death.)
And what of the romance between our Dr. Love and Miss Bunny, you ask? Well it all ended as these things often do. Bunny never used the condom stash in her purse (praise be), broke off the relationship and left behind a broken-hearted boy.
*names have been shielded to protect the little devils.
See this story in Sunday's New York Times of 14-year-old Margarite's mistake in 2010 that led to her own humiliation and altered the lives of so many around her.
The United States Constitution might be the law of the land, but some of its basic provisions don’t prevail in Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeff Roe’s home.
“In my house my two children have no Fourth Amendment rights,” quips the father of a 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. “They know that I have the right to log onto any of their email accounts at any time. I can go into their room and inspect the contents of anything that I want to at any time. A lot of parents say they don’t want to invade their children's privacy; I say it’s called being a parent.”
That same in-your-face-style shines through in the community seminars he has conducted on the sheriff’s department’s behalf for the past four years. They serve as both a professional and personal crusade aimed at educating parents and children in the greater Forsyth community and beyond about the bourgeoning dangers of cyber crime. Since 2006, there have been more than two dozen sexting cases reported at public and private schools in Forsyth County. Arrests were made, but so far none have been formally prosecuted.
As a member of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, United States Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force and the Department of Justice-backed Project Safe Childhood Initiative, Roe is all too familiar with the negative impact that young victims of these crimes often endure.
“The consequences range from low-self esteem to suicide,” he says. “My goal is to protect as many people as I can from ever having to experience any of that.”
Sexting, cyber-bullying, sex trafficking, child pornography, pedophilia and just about every other related topic imaginable typically gets raised during the PowerPoint that he now presents for free at least once a week for schools, neighborhood groups, churches and for just about anyone else who wants to listen and learn. VIEW A PORTION OF ROE'S PRESENTATION.
“Everything I do is about the protection of the children, says Roe. “You pull the bodies (attendees) together and I’ll be there to speak.” He typically holds a session for parents one day and then follows it up with an age-appropriate one for their children the next day. “This allows for the parents and children to open the lines of communication and create dialogue amongst one another about what they have learned,” he says. Although he primarily speaks to teens, he also has two interactive presentations for younger children, including one featuring an animated character named “Clicky.”
This particular morning he’s addressing parents at Montessori Academy at Sharon Springs in Cumming. Moms and dads are sprinkled about the cozy kitchen. Some sip coffee or nibble at bagels from their chairs as Roe lectures in front of a monitor perched in a far corner. He scrolls through bullet points on the screen, detailing the dangers their children could face if preventive measures aren’t taken. At every pause the parents pepper him with questions.
“You absolutely need to know the username and password on all of your children’s accounts,” he advises. “Most kids today have more than one email account and their parents don’t know about it. Talk to your kids about what you consider appropriate and what you do not. Tell them what you expect of them and accept nothing less.”
Parent Heather Love, says Roe’s presentation makes her feel better prepared to protect her eight-year-old son.
“This was a great opportunity to gain more awareness about the threat posed to our children,” she says. “We have to be more proactive as parents in protecting them. It’s a scary thing trying to stay a step ahead. I did not realize that there are no laws on cyber bullying so law enforcement is really limited in what they can do.”
Attendee Hilary Cheeseman probably wishes she’d heard Roe’s presentation years earlier. Her son was a cyber bullying victim in another state. The impact, she says, linger on since they’ve relocated to Georgia.
“This is a really big issue,” says Cheeseman, a mother of six. “Even as he’s grown older it still has a devastating effect on him as a person. He has trust issues and he is very fearful of rejection.”
Principal Nancy Fish says Roe’s presentation fit well into the school’s regular “coffee chat” series.
“The number of kids with access to the Internet and cell phones has grown dramatically over the years and a lot of young people don’t have the capacity to fully understand the many dangers that are out there,” she says. “We felt we were just doing due diligence by creating this opportunity for parents to educate themselves about the potential dangers. We felt investigator Roe’s presentation would be a great resource for parents.”
Along with passing on tips, advice and warning signs of victims and perpetrators, throughout the presentation, Roe also shares tragic, worst-case scenario stories of young cyber victims, in hopes that the names and faces of Jesse Logan, Hope Witsell, Megan Myer, Phoebe Prince and Brandon Bitner will resonate with parents and students. VIEW ANOTHER EXCERPT FROM ROE'S PRESENTATION.
“I just recently added more photos and personal stories to the presentation,” he says. “I have always told Jesse’s [Logan] story and generally I hear a collective gasp when I show her picture. They say ‘omigosh, she’s so beautiful; she’s so young.’”
School owner Kathy Lindaman feels the personal stories are a nice touch.
“It conveys that it’s not just a story this is a real person who actually died,” she says.
Roe says the main challenge he faces is getting children to grasp the consequences of their actions online.
“Most of the young people know what they’re doing is wrong, but many don’t know the long-term ramifications of their actions,” he says. “After my presentation many of them tell me ‘I didn’t realize the problem was as big as it was. I even had one kid go home and take down a Website that he created. He said thanks to your presentation I realize what I had done was wrong, so I took it down.’”
As for parents, he advises them to keep an open line of communication with their children.
“I can’t tell you how many parents have told me, ‘I didn’t think I needed to talk to my children about taking nude photos,” he says. “I try to impress upon parents to talk to their children ahead of time and let them know the seriousness of this. Even if a girl sends a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend, she needs to know that once she sends that out she loses all control of that image. Once they break up, he’s probably going to send that same photo out to all of his buddies.”
Here are some tips from investigator Jeff Roe’s presentation, in his own words.
Jeff Roe’s Tips For Parents
Maintain account access.
“One study found that 48 percent of mothers admit that they don’t know what their kids do online,” he says. “That needs to change. You have to monitor what your children are doing; check their accounts and let them know that deleting stuff is not okay. You do the deleting. You should also routinely check your child’s browsing history.”
Throw out all stereotypes of cyber bullies and sexual predators.
“You need to let your kids know that there is evil in this world,” says Roe. “Don’t just think of the bad guy as some man who is 40 or 50 years old. Look at the kid right next to you! Forty-eight percent of all online solicitation is made by someone under the age of 18, according to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. Juvenile offenders make up a growing number of the offenders in the area of internet crimes and sexting as well.”
Buy Web monitoring software.
“Talk to the sales associates at the electronics stores such as Fry’s or Best Buy. Let them know ‘I’m looking for software for monitoring my child’s Internet use. What do you suggest?’ There’s software that exists ranging from $19 to $99 and above.”
Know the capabilities of any device in your child’s possession.
“Talk to your kids; don’t be afraid to parent. Know the technology that you’re giving to a child and what it’s capable of. A lot of time we’re putting an adult device in the hands of a child and expecting them to make adult decisions. Then we’re surprised when they don’t.”
The same goes for gaming devices, according to Roe.
“Most parents are buying their kids an Xbox and have no idea that they can connect it to the Internet and talk to people all over the world.”
Document. Document. Document.
“Print out all incidents of cyber bullying; you need to have copies of everything just in case there’s ever an investigation. If you discover a nude or explicit photo – even if it is one that your child sent out of themselves– don’t delete it. Notify law enforcement so that the matter can be investigated and it can be added to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children database. They have a database of all known and unknown victim children. It can remain on file and be used to aid law enforcement for future prosecution.”
Talk to your children in advance.
“Just keep the lines of communication open, with your children. Let them know what you expect. Let them know that you’re not being mean or trying to invade their privacy, you’re trying to protect them.”
For more information on Investigator Roe’s presentations, visit http://www.forsythsheriff.org/presentations-crimeprevention-118
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.
There have been at least 10 sexting cases in the Forsyth County school system over the past four years. This is what drives sheriff’s investigator Jeff Roe in his campaign against sexting and Internet based sex crime among teens, according to the AJC.
He visits schools with a blunt message: kids have committed suicide after being exposed on the Internet and in picture text messages. He urges students to take the problem seriously by not participating in any form of sexting, explicit text messaging or sharing of lewd images online.
Is the reach out to the community working? It’s hard to tell. Prosecutors have been reluctant to go after teens involved in sexting because the punishment is so severe: felony child pornography charges could result in 20 years in prison.
Other metro Atlanta school systems are offering Internet sex crime seminars, but Forsyth is the most aggressive. Fulton County schools only offer occasional “Lunch and Learn” sessions for parents and Cobb’s Prevention and Intervention Department provides Internet safety tips on the county website. Gwinnett County is just getting started by offering information at PTA meetings, on the system’s website and in the student handbook.
For the AJC’s full story, click here.