Teen Sexting - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Teen Sexting

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

With the click of a mouse, or a ‘send’ button, the damage is done in an instant.

In an age when almost everyone has a cell phone, the opportunity for a mistake is large.

Sexting among our younger generation is more rampant than ever before, but do they understand what one picture can do?

I spent several weeks looking at how bad the problem is here, and here is a message for parents that you must tell your children before it is too late.

It is tough world we live in. We see celebrities posting half naked pictures on social media and then are asked to turn around and ask young people not to do that.

However, this is something they must understand: one message, one shot, one second, can change their lives forever.

“It can cause a person to commit suicide if that person cannot mentally deal with the impact that sharing that image has caused,” said Kesha Gibson-Carter.

Middle and high school are hard enough, but now we live in a time when almost every student, every child carries a cell phone. They can be great tools; they can also wreck a life.

Before you think about sending a risqué picture to the boy or girl you like, let me tell you about some things.

First, no matter whether both parties are on board and willingly exchanging these photos or messages; it does not matter because it’s illegal.

“They may very well face some charges that will follow them for the rest of their lives,” said Diane McLeod.

If you are lucky, they will be misdemeanor charges and you will face some counseling, community service, or maybe some probation. But they can also be felony charges.

“Any college, any employer, if those are felony charges, that is going to show on my record,” McLeod said.

You could also be required to register as a sex offender, and that does not go away.

In these cases there is usually at least two people involved: the one sending the picture or message, and the one that is going to get to see it.

“In an effort to stay popular, or an effort to not be bullied, or in an effort to be cool, [students] feel they have to subject themselves to these types of behavior,” Gibson-Carter said.  

“Not even 3 weeks later, how about 24 hours later, the whole school has the picture,” McLeod said. “You cannot put [the toothpaste] back in the tube.””

And if it does get out, and even if those involved learn their lesson, that does not mean the end.

“We realize seven to eight months later, that is comes back up and resurfaces and starts all over again. Someone still has that image on their phone,” McLeod said.

If you receive a picture or message from a girl or boy and decide to share that with your friends, you just opened another door to even more trouble.

Let’s use Joe and Sally as an example. What happens if Joe shares a picture with his buddies?

“That has crossed another line, and now you have crossed into a felony because by him sharing it, he is not sharing it because he loves Sally, he is sharing it to harass her and humiliate her,” McLeod said.

That’s a felony.

And if you are a parent and think there is no way my child has ever sent or received anything like this, consider this: according the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Child, over 60 percent of children have been asked for sexual images of themselves.

“At random times you should be able to go to your child and say, ‘let me see what you have been texting about,’” Gibson-Carter said.

Gibson-Carter works with the Rape Crisis Center and she said this type of risky behavior can, in some cases, lead to much more violent behavior.

“There is a correlation between the sexting piece and ultimate sexual violence, in particular, rape,” she said. “The impact of that on a youth, or a young person, is just as damaging on a young person as the act of rape or sexual assault can be. It can stay with them the rest of their lives and change the very pattern of their life.”

McLeod has seen that impact.

“They have left school, they have moved out of county because they do not want to face the humiliation of the people that have seen those pictures,” McLeod said.

Surprisingly, the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools has had zero incidents of sexting that have come through their campus police in the last year. However, with 38,000 students, they know they have to be proactive, and because of this piece, they are changing their student handbook.

Quentina Miller-Fields: “We are going to be very proactive, and actually put a section in our code of conduct that will address sexting. It will be very obvious that it is prohibited,” said Quentina Miller-Fields.

And if you do go school, and decide to take part in this behavior on campus:

“We will try and give warnings, but there can be expulsion for this type of behavior,” Miller-Fields said. “That will affect you being on campus, however, there is a criminal side to this also.”

And lastly, if you believe using an app like Snapchat, that deletes the photo after a certain amount of time, is a safe way to go about sending pictures of yourself to others, think again. Screenshots of pictures are just as clear.

Remember, in one second you can lose control.

“Once it does that, you have no way of containing it,” McLeod said.

This all applies to teens between 14 and under 18 years old. If you are 18 or older and are taking part in this type of behavior with someone 17 and under, the penalties are much harsher and last a lot longer.

As far as prevention, the Rape Crisis Center and the school system all partner with the Juvenile Court System to hold education courses several times a year in the school. 

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