The earlier blog entry on “Porn and Pizza” led to several comments about the problems in schools of “sexting.” Here is information released today about the growing practice from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Two years ago, the word “sexting” did not even exist in the English language. Today it is a term that is much discussed and debated by parents, students, educators, law enforcement leaders and policymakers. “Sexting” refers to youth sending sexually explicit messages or sexually explicit photos of themselves or others to their peers. Today, many teens are using cell phones, computers, web cams, digital cameras, and/or certain video game systems to take and distribute sexually explicit photographs of themselves or others.
Is “sexting” merely an example of “kids being kids,” or is it a more serious societal concern that in some cases requires criminal sanctions? In an effort to provide a better framework for policy discussion and to better inform the public, today the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is releasing a policy statement on “sexting.” This statement is a product of extensive dialogue with leaders in the field, and was developed with the strong involvement of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law.
“There has been much concern that teens engaged in ‘sexting’ would be criminally prosecuted and required to register as sex offenders,” said Ernie Allen, President of NCMEC. “That isn’t happening. Yet, ‘sexting’ is a large problem that we have to come to grips with as a nation. Some of these incidents are minor. Some are very serious. Through this new policy statement on ‘sexting,’ we hope to provide greater understanding and perspective as we strive to cope more effectively with this difficult new phenomenon.”
“Sexting” is a complex issue that covers a wide range of severity. NCMEC believes that the primary response to “sexting” must be positive, empowering educational messages directed to parents and teens. Parents must become more involved in their children’s lives, be more aware of what they are doing, and set limits. Teens must become better informed about the implications and repercussions of their acts.
Two years ago, before the word “sexting” was invented, NCMEC launched a public service advertising campaign in partnership with the Ad Council. The message was “Think Before You Post.” The campaign sought to alert teens to the risks associated with “sexting” and other online communications. Once the images are out there, you can’t get them back. They can affect a teen’s future, impact his or her ability to be admitted to college, be hired for jobs, and much more.
Yet, NCMEC also believes that in some instances, “sexting” entails serious criminal acts requiring investigation by law enforcement and action by authorities.
A survey conducted for NCMEC by Cox Communications and released in June 2009 found that 19 percent of teens surveyed had sent, received, or forwarded sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos through text message or e-mail. Of the teens surveyed who had engaged in “sexting,” 60 percent sent the photos to a boyfriend/girlfriend and 11 percent sent them to someone they did not know.
NCMEC knows about “sexting” firsthand. NCMEC’s Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed and analyzed 27 million child pornography images and videos since 2003, 9 million in the past year alone. Of the children successfully identified and rescued, 10 percent of the images were self-produced. Another 14 percent were produced as a result of online enticement by another party who persuaded or extorted youth into taking and sending explicit photos.
A copy of the new Policy Statement on Sexting issued by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children can be found on the organization’s web site.
Additional resources for parents include: Safety tips for cell phone use .