A survey this year by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTUP) found that one in five teen girls said she had electronically sent nude or semi-nude images of themselves — or "sexted" — and almost one in five teen boys had done the same.
Teens lives today are so tech-saturated; and pairing that with provocative, impulsive youth behavior, it's no surprise that a kid firing off a partially clothed pic to his or her crush gives it so little thought. However, the result can not only end up humiliating the subject for an undefined period of time (as our technology today gives the sexually charged imagery or other material staying power via the Internet and portable devices), but nationwide, some scenarios have already resulted in serious criminal and felony charges.
Earlier this year in Wisconsin, a teen was charged with possessing child pornography after posting nude images of his underage girlfriend online, and later the same situation took place in New York between a 16-year-old boy and his 15-year-old girlfriend. In Alabama, middle schoolers traded naked pics and landed themselves in similar trouble.
Stories of curious kids and their cameras are popping up across the nation, and further complicating the issue is the problem of policy lagging technology — the trick of enforcing yesterday's laws in today's reality. Law enforcement and prosecutors must consider how your system will handle these cases, which were likely not a possibility — thus not considered — when child pornography and obscenity laws were penned.
For now, the National Crime Prevention Council has made it a mission to raise awareness of teen sexting and its lasting effects, and has tools available on its Web site, www.ncpc.org, to educate the public and combat the trend. NCPTUP also offers resources on the subject through its site, www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech.
Police are not in the business of drafting laws but rather enforcing what's on the books; but it's probably a good time to be proactive and help educate the community on the trouble with sexts. Given the increasing prevalence of the problem, it may be just a matter of time before your agency is confronted with talking about sexts and the real-life consequences of what teens are doing electronically.
Editorial Advisory Board
Chief Frank Sleeter (Ret.)
Sun Prairie (Wis.) Police Department
Chief Donna Waters
Raleigh-Durham Airport Police
Chief Felix Moran
Stillaguamish Tribal Police
Chief Tom Casady
Lincoln (Neb.) Police Department Armorer and Weapons Trainer
Sonoma County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department
Sgt. Alan Green
Los Angeles Police Department
Sgt. Randy McPherron
Anchorage Unit of the Alaska Bureau of Investigations
Warden Evelyn Seifert
Northern Regional Jail and Correctional Facility (W. Va.)