FOR THE WEEK OF APR 04, 2011
Teen sexting creates tricky issues for law enforcers and lawmakers
Privacy is an issue covered regularly for varied reasons. Look for any recent report involving online security, government actions or other concerns.
Music, TV and other popular culture can set a bad example, some parents and educators say. Try to find an article or ad that shows how bold actions are used to get attention.
Can you spot a reference to social media in the news? Is it about something positive, negative or just humorous?
For the second straight year, Florida legislators are debating a sensitive question that's a hot topic nationwide: Should minors who snap racy photos on cellphones and send them to friends be punished as child-pornography distributors or sex offenders? A proposed change, which failed to pass in 2010, would let first offenders under 18 get a warning instead of a criminal charge. "It's an issue we need to address," says Sen. Charlie Dean, sponsor of the bill to relax the law.
Since 2009, at least 26 states have tried to pass some kind of legislation to deal with sexting -- the practice of sending explicit text messages, photos or videos. The efforts reflect a push to reform laws aimed at adults, which prosecutors sometimes apply against teens who don't realize that what seems like flirting or showing off is actually a felony. Two girls and a boy -- all eighth-graders -- learned that scary lesson last year when a county prosecutor in Washington State charged them with starting the viral spread of a schoolmate's nude photo. The case, featured prominently March 27 in a front-page New York Times report on sexting, was dismissed when the students agreed to create public service materials about sexting risks.
Many school districts try to warn parents and students about sexting, and some authorize principals to check cellphones. "We have to protect kids from themselves sometimes," says attorney Justin Fitzsimmons of Alexandria, Va., a specialist in online crimes against minors. "We're teaching them how to manage their electronic reputations." The need for that education is clear from a 2009 poll for the Associated Press and MTV. Twenty-four percent of respondents aged 14 to 17 had been involved in "some type of naked sexting," either by cellphone or online.
School district says: "Parents called us because they didn't know about the law that could send kids to jail for a bad choice. Kids didn't know about it either." -- Courtney Schrieve, North Thurston Public Schools (site of Washington State case)
Educator says: "You can't expect teenagers not to do something they see happening all around them. They're practicing to be a part of adult culture. And in 2011, that is a culture of sexualization and of putting yourself out there to validate who you are and that you matter." -- Susannah Stern, associate professor at the University of San Diego
State senator says: "We're not out to make criminals out of children, but there should be an accountability for their behavior, and their parents should be involved with helping us." -- Sen. Charlie Dean, Florida Republican who proposes relaxed rules for teens
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