Sexting or Online Text Messaging
The sexting trend, the act of sending sexually explicit messages and nude photographs, primarily between mobile phones, was first mentioned in a 2005 article in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. Sexting involving teenagers sending nude photographs of themselves to their friends led to a legal gray area in countries that have strict anti-child pornography laws. Some teenagers who have texted nude or suggestive photos of themselves to peers have been prosecuted with possession or distribution of child pornography.
In a 2008 survey of 1,280 teenagers and young adults of both sexes 20% of teens (13-19) and 33% of young adults (20-26) said that they had sent nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves electronically. Additionally, 39% of teens and 59% of young adults had sent sexually explicit text messages.
What is sexting?
Sexting is a technology enabled form of social interaction. People have sent sexually suggestive messages as far back in history as we can track. New forms of electronic communication, which offer near instant deliver of photos taken with cell phones, provide impulsive teenagers with an easy means to flirt with their peers, often with such rapidity that they have little time to consider the consequences. The danger with sexting is that the messages can be stored indefinitely and can easily be distributed and propagated, often without the sender’s consent. In some cases, the messages can even go viral (i.e. can quickly spread throughout the Internet), a particularly distressing situation for the victim.
What are the legal consequences?
There have been many legal cases surrounding the sexting trend. Depending on the contents of sexts, school officials must call the Department of Human Resources and law enforcement to report them. In addition, families of sexting participants can also decide to press charges against other teenagers distributing graphic photos.
In July 2010, Londonderry High School teacher Melinda Dennehy pled guilty and received a one-year suspended sentence for sending racy photos of herself to a 15-year-old student.
At Margareetta High School in Castalia, Ohio, a 17-year-old girl sent nude pictures of herself to a boyfriend. The boyfriend began circulating the pictures around the highs school after the two young lovers got into a fight. Police were called in to investigate and the girl was charged.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a teenage boy was indicted on felony obscenity charges for allegedly sending a photo of his genitals to several female classmates. The sexted photos were sent to the classmates as a joke.
Two southwest Ohio teenagers were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a first-degree misdemeanor, for sending or possessing nude photos on their cell phones of two 15-year-old schoolmates.
In 2010 in Wisconsin, a 17-year-old was charged with possessing child pornography after he posted naked pictures of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend online.
In Alabama, authorities arrested four middle-school students for exchanging nude photos of themselves.
In Rochester, N.Y., a 16-year-old boy is now facing up to seven years in prison for forwarding a nude photo of a 15-year-old girlfriend to his friends.
“I don’t think that’s what was contemplated when the laws were written, says the Rochester teen’s attorney, Tom Splain, who has worked on several similar cases this year. “I think it was more for the older pedophile collecting pictures of young children; we’re now running into high school students getting swept up in these charges.”
What are other consequences?
Lawmakers in many states quickly moved to lessen the penalties against sexters under the belief that the intent was not to distribute child pornography. Still, the sexting trend can leave long lasting scars on the victim, often a young teenager unaware of the long term consequences of their act. Teenagers must understand that pictures distributed or leaked over the Internet can be archived online and will float around for the rest of their lives. This can be particularly distressing when the teenager reaches adulthood and applies for college or their first job. Even if the result of their action is not something official, the teenager must realize that what they thought was a joke can come back to haunt them for many years afterward.
Other forms of sexting
In addition to sexually suggestive photos, teens have begun “online sex” using text messages or IM chat rooms. Although not as legally threatening as revealing photos, it does open up the possibly of assault via online predators and may still result in legal charges for harassment or obscenity if the recipient takes offense or chooses to pursue legal action. If video is shot during the conversations, which can be recorded and distributed later, then the usual sexting dangers of course, still apply.
Sexting Short Codes
In online sex texting, teens will often use shortcodes that parents may not understand.
Banana – penis
CD9 or code 9 – parents are around
GNOC – get naked on cam
GYPO – get your pants off
IFIB – in the front or in the back
MOS – mom over shoulder
NALOPKT – not a lot of people know that
P911 – parent alert
PAL – parents are listening
PAW – parents are watching
PIR – parent in room
POS – parent over shoulder