Special to the I-O By Dianna Kersey
A father sees that his daughter’s cell phone has just received a text message. He looks down to see what it says and he reads the acronym, NIFOC. He shrugs his shoulders thinking nothing about what it means and continues on with his day. What he didn’t realize was that the acronym stood for “naked in front of computer” which is a common sexting term.
What is Sexting?
It’s not only inappropriate; it’s illegal and can lead to a federal sex offender charge on your teenager. Sexting is defined as: the act of sending, opening or storing sexually explicit messages, photographs or videos, primarily between mobile phones via text messages. Cell phones are prolific among pre-teens and teenagers nowadays; you can hardly see a teen without one and is using it constantly - but that is another topic altogether. Today’s question is: as their parent, do you really know what your kids are texting?
It is currently a felony for children to send such messages, and violators could end up on the state’s sex offender registry. Legal cases of sexting, both images taken and sent, as well as images opened and circulated are occurring all over the country and legislators are scrambling to address the topic.
It’s Considered Child Pornography and Prosecuted As Such
Parry Aftab is an Internet Privacy & Security Lawyer and one of the leading experts worldwide, on cybercrime, Internet privacy and cyber-abuse issues, especially when it comes to children. According to Ms. Aftab, “images taken of an individual under the age of 18 by an individual under the age of 18 can be constituted as child pornography.” Attorney Aftab went on to explain that “If you take a picture of yourself or another individual under the age of 18 and send it, you can then be accused of distributing child pornography. If you keep a copy of that picture on your cell phone or computer, you can be charged with possessing child pornography. Once charged with those offenses, you will be registered as a sex offender.”
National Teen Epidemic
Police departments nationwide are regarding sexting as a national epidemic among our teens. Sexting complaints, cyber bullying and cyber blackmail are occurring at alarming rates.
In an interview with Pondera County Sheriff Tom Kuka stated “These kids take a picture, send it, it’s gone and they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives because they can be charged with a sex offense that doesn’t go away at the age of 18.”
Deputy Sheriff Mike Galloway stated, “These kids who are participating in sexts can currently be charged with a federal offense when the image crosses state lines.” He went on to explain that everyday these sexting images are stolen off of cell phones and are sold on the black market. These images can then show up on underground websites with your son or daughter’s image on it. It’s not a pretty picture.
Often times kids are pressured into taking pictures of themselves to ensure the boyfriend/girlfriend will stay with them. Once the couple breaks up or has a bad fight, then the sexts are sent out for revenge to the entire school. Soon the sexts are sent via emails and it won’t be long before it’s permanently on a website. It’s a snowball ready to become an avalanche of humiliation.
How Sexting Effects Victims
A recent school bus incident shows us just how easy it is to become a victim of cyber assault. A girl was grabbed by the front of her shirt and physically assaulted. Out came the camera cell phone and a picture was taken of her while her shirt was pulled away. The images were immediately sent out to everyone in school and now the charges escalate. A kid’s prank landed the offender in serious trouble and left the victim feeling helpless and humiliated. Our kids have enough pressure just growing up. Because cell phones were not available during our teen years, it is difficult to fathom the social pressure cell phone texting can cause our kids. As parents and grandparents, we must help stop this kind of social pressure as much as possible.
Locally, Laura Swanson from the Pondera County Juvenile Probation office explained to me, “Many kids come in here in tears from cyber bullying that has occurred to them. It is affecting their performance in school and extracurricular activities.
It is time for parents to really take notice of what could be happening to their kids.” Listen to your children. Talk to them about these dangers, you just might be surprised at what they have to say about this topic.
Suicide Over Sexting – Yes Suicide!
Humiliation from sexting has escalated to the extent that young girls are committing suicide because of the shame and harassment they receive from others after their image or video has been shared with or sent to the planet. Featured on the Today Show, ‘Sexting’ bullying was cited in teen’s suicide. 13-year-old Hope Witsell hung herself after topless photos circulated of her. This is not just a single event; there have been several reports of suicides over the embarrassment of sexts from coast to coast. Schools, school officials and parents of these other kids who perform the sexting act are being sued and held accountable for their children’s actions. It has become a legal issue every parent needs to know about and discuss with their kids.
What is Conrad doing about sexting
As a concerned parent, I had an interview with Nancy Bruner, Secretary Treasurer of Youth Enhancement Services here in Conrad. She explained to me that Conrad has been strongly proactive on this topic. Last fall she and the Y.E.S. team choreographed venues for teachers and students as to the dangers of digital cyber topics and sexting was on top of the list.
Experts on kids and cyber crimes, Brian Fischer from the Montana Crimes Against Children Task Force in Helena was brought in to address the high school and junior high along with Richard Guerry from IROC2.org. Guerry has a website dedicated to teaching kids about sexting and you can visit it at www.sextingisstupid.com.
Plans for future events from Y.E.S. are in the works to continue educating kids and their parents on digital abuse. It’s strong, dedicated people inside of our community agencies here in Pondera County that really helps me feel reassured that my kids are being protected here in Montana.
What Can Parents Do?
1. First and foremost… Be A Parent! Not a friend, but a parent. Cell phones are not a teenage right; they are a privilege to be used for communicating with you.
2. Set ground rules and restrictions. Limit the amount and times of when they can text.
3. Review your teen’s cell phone all the time and any time of the day. It’s not snooping, it’s called parenting. You pay the bill; it’s your right to know what information is being stored on a device you own.
4. Take the phone away at bedtime. Continuous cell phone texting at night disturbs sleep and inhibits school performance.
5. Purchase a cell phone Watch Dog program such as www.mymobilewatchdog.com in order to monitor the texts, images and videos that come into and leave your child’s cell phone.
6. Watch helpful sexting education videos and help teach your kids the real life consequences of their actions. A sex offender charge will haunt them for life.
7. Talk to your kids and ask them if they have ever received sexts from other kids. Let them take a private cyber quiz on sexting at www.athinline.org. It is a fantastic resource to help kids learn and understand the consequences of sexting and other cyber bullying issues.
8. Never assume your child is too young to receive a sext. If they have a cell phone, they can be receiving them. Teach the younger kids to never engage in this kind of activity.
9. Purchase a cell phone that does not have a camera in it. It might not stop the texting, but it can help curb the sexting pictures.
The Ad Council and Center for Missing and Exploited Children posted a public service announcement on Youtube
Video: Out of Your Hands
Editor’s note: Dianna Kersey is an Information Architect who daily commutes virtually to Tampa, Fla. representing International clients and brands for search engine presence and social media engagements. She is also a concerned mom of teenagers and a preschooler.