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Periodic updates and commentary for parents, educators, and children about the potential legal problems resulting from the use and misuse of electronic devices.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
(NSPCC) in London has just completed an in-depth study of the effects of sexting on children in general, and on young women in particular. The study has eight sobering conclusions on the impact of sexting on young people.
1. The Main Threat Is From Peers.
Contrary to popular belief, teens are not most at risk from strangers but instead from people they know. In fact, the gravest threat is often posed by people who are "friends" on social media.
2. Sexting Is Often Coercive.
That really shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has followed this issue. What is interesting, however, is that researchers found that sexting covers a range of behaviors, from innocent flirtation to more threatening behaviors, including harassment, cyberbullying, stalking, sextortion, and even sexual assault.
Following the news of the tragic death of Staten Island student Amanda Cummings
, 15, New York State Senator Jeff Klein
announced plans to introduce legislation to create a new state crime under the heading "bullycide." See New York Legislator Proposes New Crime: "Bullycide"
Shortly thereafter, Senator Klein filed S6132-2011
, entitled "An act to amend the penal law, in relation to the electronic stalking of a minor, criminal impersonation by means of electronic communications and aggravated harassment by means of electronic communication." The bill is a companion to legislation filed by New York Assemblyman William Scarborough
Regardless of the actual percentage of teens who text, there's no question that at least some teens are doing so, and that the consequences can be severe. Two recent articles out of New York help illustrate the risks for exhibitionist teens.
According to the New York Post
, a Bensonhurst, Brooklyn junior high school had the dubious honor of having the highest number of sexting-related suspensions during the 2010-2011 school year.
Records maintained by the New York Department of Education (which started keeping tabs on sexting offenses in June 2010) reveal that 32 kids at the Edward B. Shallow Junior High School were suspended last year for sext-related activity.
As legal experts point out, a school has limited ability to regulate behavior that takes place entirely off-campus, unless school officials discover sexting images or the activity interferes with the educational environment of the school.
What parents need to remember, however, is that in most states, sexting is still a violation of state and federal law. Three hundred and twenty miles northwest of Brooklyn, in Palmyra, NY, two teens are facing criminal charges for a sexting incident.
The Lebanon Daily News reports
that an unnamed 17-year-old female is being charged with "open lewdness" for sending explicit photos to a 15-year-old boy. The male, who showed the photos to classmates at Palmyra Area High School, has been charged with "disorderly conduct."
Both are relatively minor charges and carry far lower penalties than for the production and distribution of child pornography.
Researchers and sleep medicine specialists are beginning to notice a new phenomenon popping up in patient consultations: "sleep-texting." The practice is most common among teens and college students, but practitioners expect that it soon will start occurring more among adults -- with potentially embarrassing or even life-altering results.
An academic debate is brewing over the correct estimate for the percentage of teens who engage in the practice of "sexting," i.e., the use of cell phones to send nude or semi-nude photos of themselves or other underage individuals.
Last fall, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported
that "just 2% of all teens ages 12-17 say they have sent a 'sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video' of themselves to someone else." That percentage, Pew said, had remained stable since a similar survey in 2009, and was markedly lower than initial survey estimates of 20%.
According to a report on CNN, New York state Sen. Jeffrey Klein is proposing to create a new felony called "bullycide." The crime, which would come under the category of second-degree manslaughter, would be defined as "when a person engages in cyberbullying and intentionally causes the victim of such offense to commit suicide."
Add Oklahoma to the list of states reviewing child pornography laws and considering possible changes to take into account the surge in "sexting" among teens. Like others across the country, some Oklahoma legislators agree that 10 or more years in prison is excessive when the individuals involved are in a consensual relationship, even if one or both happens to be a teenager.
Sexting is generally defined as the production and transmission of sexually explicit images or videos using cellphones. By some estimates, as many as 1 in 5 teens has taken and distributed a nude photo.
Here's a warning to parents and teens about the potential spread of sexting photos: Police in Emmaus, Pennsylvania are investigating how nude photos of high school students wound up on an unnamed pornographic Web site.
According to reports, the photos were taken by the teens themselves and shared with classmates. It's not clear right now how the photos wound up on the adult Web site, or how they were discovered. Police believe, however, that the photos were on the site "for some time."
A recent joint survey by MTV and the Associated Press
reports that one-third of teens ages 14-24 have sent or received a "sext" message.
Roughly half that number (15 percent) have taken naked photos or videos of themselves, and shared those photos with someone else. In ten percent of those cases, the photos or videos are being shared with someone that the teen only knows through online contact.
This summer, Florida joined the growing number of state that have changed their laws to address the growing sexting issue. The legislature amended its obscenity statutes by adopting Section 847.0141, entitled "Sexting; prohibited acts; penalties."
Florida is one of the first states to draft a legislative definition of "sexting": "to transmit or distribute to another minor any photograph or video of any person which depicts nudity." That's somewhat narrower than the colloquial definition, which includes explicit text messages or images/videos of sexual activity.
Hello World! Welcome to the Cybertraps Blog. This blog is intended to supplement the resources of CybertrapsfortheYoung.com
by providing a forum for longer discussions of relevant news, legislation, and prosecutions relating to the legal issues that are snaring children.
My hope is that the commentary in this blog will spur discussion, encourage parents to network with friends, teachers, and school boards, and promote the teaching of cyberethics in our school systems. As our children embrace 21st-century technology in a 19th- or 20th-century legal environment, we need to educate them about the very real consequences of misusing electronic devices.
For a comprehensive, structured overview of the legal issues that I will discuss in this blog, please order a copy of my book, Cybertraps for the Young
(NTI Upstream 2011).