By Anayat Durrani
April 29, 2009
Teens sending risqué photos of themselves to friends using cell phones, called “sexting,” has parents and school officials up in arms over the growing trend. The seemingly innocent, but potentially dangerous, practice has resulted in a handful of cases nationwide of teens being charged with child pornography and placed on sex offender lists.
That’s what happened to Phillip Alpert, an 18-year-old from Florida. Alpert e-mailed nude photos of his ex-girlfriend to 70 people. It got him five years probation, thrown out of college, and labeled a sex offender until he turns 43.
Is ”sexting” child pornography?
”Sexting” has lawyers grappling for a new definition of what constitutes a predatory sex offender. In general, the law says any nude or semi-nude photo of someone under the age of 18 constitutes child pornography. A teen found with this type of image on their cell phone can be charged with possession of child pornography and the sender with distribution.
Critics argue that child pornography laws were not designed to apply to teen ”sexting” and that the pictures are often sent without criminal intent. There is a move by law enforcement and women’s groups to change the law, which is deemed by some to be too harsh on minors.
In a case in rural Pennsylvania where local high school officials confiscated student cell phones containing nude and revealing images of teens, District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., gave teens two choices. They could either accept charges of child pornography or enroll in an education course designed to inform about the dangers of ”sexting.” Parents enrolled 17 students in the education program; however, three students and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Skumanick. The three students claim the pictures were not pornographic and that they did not give permission for the images to be distributed. A hearing on the case is scheduled for June 2.
”Sexting” trend widespread
Meanwhile, ”sexting” remains a pressing issue for parents and educators to address. A 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy found that 39 percent of teens have sent or posted sexually suggestive messages and 48 percent say they have received such messages. Many parents worry the images could find their way onto the Internet, or even worse, into the possession of actual sexual predators.
One of the most publicized stories of teen ”sexting” occurred in Ohio where last year high school senior Jessica Logan, 18, sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend. After the two split, the boyfriend allegedly sent the images to his friends. Logan learned that the photo circulated among students at seven high schools throughout the greater Cincinnati area. Other students harassed her and called her a ”whore” and ”porn queen.” Logan subsequently hanged herself in her bedroom. Logan’s parents now work with the nonprofit WiredSafety.org to establish programs to promote awareness among teens and warn of the hazards of”sexting.” The Logans are trying to launch a national campaign to establish laws to address ”sexting.”
Celebs and ”Sexting”
Celebrities have learned the perils of racy photos mixed with one-click technology. In 2007, a fully nude photo of High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens, which she had reportedly e-mailed to her boyfriend, actor Zac Efron, surfaced on the Internet. Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus also experienced the pitfalls of ”sexting” when someone hacked into her phone and leaked racy images of her—meant only for her boyfriend—online. Last year, another Disney star, Cheetah Girls starlet Adrienne Bailon, took nude pictures of herself to send to boyfriend Rob Kardashian but lost her laptop at JFK airport. An anonymous man returned her laptop for $1,000, but several nude pictures she took as an anniversary present for Kardashian were missing and quickly spread on the Internet.
While teens may view ”sexting” as an innocent practice, the results can have lasting negative effects. Reputations, social lives, and future careers can be ruined as a result of nude pictures going public. Many teens feel shameful regret and embarrassment once they realize what they have done during a momentary lapse in judgment. Further, as there are currently no specific laws on the books regarding ”sexting,” teens should think twice before clicking ‘Send.’
Anayat Durrani is a professional freelance journalist with an M.A. degree. A versatile writer, she has been published in California Lawyer magazine, Plaintiff magazine, and LawCrossing.com, among many others.