Sexting — Growing Problem in Schools

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Allison Brand,

Child pornography has a new venue: teens’ cell phones.  But the illicit photos come not from predators but from other teens. “Sexting,” – using a cell phone to send nude or seminude pictures of oneself to others – is growing in regularity among teens across the country. And officials view it as a crime.

In a Pennsylvania high school, three girls took seminude cell phone photos of themselves and sent the pictures to several boys in the school. School officials found the photos and reported them to authorities. Police charged the seven teens with pornography.

Similar cases are popping up in other states such as Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio and Utah. Oregon has yet to deal with such a case, but that does not mean sexting does not occur.

Anton Bogan, a local high school student, told Portland television station KPTV that “9.7 times out of 10, it’s a nasty photo.”

According to a national study released by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, 20 percent of teens have sent or posted online seminude or nude images of themselves. A majority of these teens sent the pictures to a boyfriend or girlfriend, while a minority sent them to someone they wanted to date. Percentages were higher for young adults.

To teens, the problem with sexting is how quickly a photo can spread. A picture meant for a boyfriend or girlfriend may be forwarded around the school. But with the arrest of teens in other states, the stakes became higher than embarrassment or reputation.

While some authorities have decided to charge teens with felonies for sexting, debate arises about the appropriate method of dealing with teens’ actions.

The Associated Press reported that Dante Vertani, chief public defender in Westmoreland County, Pa., where the seven students went to court, disagreed with the felony charges.

“It should be an issue between the school, the parents and the kids – and primarily the parents and the kids,” Vertani said. “It’s not something that should be going through the criminal system.”

Most of the Pennsylvania teens accepted misdemeanor charges. In another case from Newark, Ohio, a teen girl agreed to restrictions in lieu of charges being brought to court. And authorities will continue to work with parents and schools to find the proper way to handle this new form of child pornography.