A 2008 survey, Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults, found that 20% of teens of 33% of young adults had sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures of video of themselves. Sexting is defined as “sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone.” Schools are reaching out to law enforcement for assistance, and some of these cases are finding their way into juvenile courts for delinquency proceedings. An example from December 2013 at Avon High School is detailed here. A newer issue, with girls in particular, is taking photographs of each other in public restrooms partially disrobed while using the restroom and then sharing these partially nude photographs with others. Sexting: Risky Actions and Overreactions by Art Bowker and Michael Sullivan from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin gives an overview of the sexting issue and potential responses.
In Indiana, a person of any age who knowingly or intentionally creates, disseminates, or makes available on a computer or peripheral device an image that depicts sexual conduct of a child less than eighteen years of age may be charged with the crimes of Child Exploitation or Possession of Child Pornography (IC 35-42-4-4). Part of the challenge for teenagers is the broad definition of sexual conduct, which includes: sexual intercourse, deviate sexual conduct, exhibition of the uncovered genitals or female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple intended to satisfy or arouse the sexual desires of any person, any fondling or touching of a child by another person or of another person by a child intended to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the other person. A 2013 law change raised the age under this statute to include children less than to eighteen years of age, rather than the original “less than sixteen years of age.” This change swept more children into the system for this increasingly common behavior for more children.
Clearly, some of these children are not being taught about responsible behavior with the cellphones and the potential consequences. Indiana State Bar Association, Civil Rights of Children Committee, has published a fact sheet that may be helpful to open a discussion with children, Teenagers Sex and the Law in Indiana. For more ideas, see this Tip Sheet to Prevent Sexting from the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also has a tip sheet for teens and parents.
A 2010 Indiana Law Review note, Sexting: A Response to Prosecuting Those Growing Up with a Growing Trend, by Jordan J. Szymilalis discusses the overall sexting issue and suggests possible responses.
This New York Times article, The Price of Stolen Childhood by Emily Bazelon, is a chilling description of the long-term impact of child molesting and child pornography, especially in the age of photos and videos that are so easily uploaded to the Internet. “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a database of more than 5,000 child-pornography victims. The center estimates that 12 percent of them have had their photos distributed across the Internet.”