By Tom Grant
PhD student at Center for ETHICS*, University of Idaho
What will you do when someone sexts you a picture?
If you’re under 30, chances are that someone will text you a sexually explicit photo. A recent survey on “sexting” by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that nearly half of the young adults had received a nude or semi-nude photo of someone via cell phone or email. A third of those young people had actually sent such a photo of themselves, generally to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Despite the private intentions of those messages, sexting has created highly public and criminal dramas around the nation. A 12-year-old and 13-year-old in Indiana are now facing criminal charges for sending nude pictures to each other. Those photos were discovered when a teacher confiscated the girl’s cell phone.
In Ohio, a family is suing their daughter’s ex-boyfriend and other classmates because they shared an explicit photo of the girl. The girl later committed suicide.
In Pennsylvania, six high school students were charged with manufacturing pornography or possession of child pornography in a sexting case. Three girls under the age of 15 sent nude pictures to the boys, and the pictures were discovered on the boys’ cell phones.
In Virginia, a school administrator was charged with failure to report child abuse and possession of child pornography because of his investigation of a sexting case. The photo was discovered on a boys’ phone, it was not immediately identifiable, and the administrator had the student forward it to him so the school could try to determine if any laws were broken. Although charges were eventually dropped, it illustrates the legal danger that sexting creates for everyone involved.
Federal law says that any photo or video showing the “lascivious exhibition of the genitals” of a minor is child pornography. Both those who send such images and those who possess them can be found guilty of crimes. Those convicted of such a crime face a prison term and a lifetime on the sex offenders list. However, no law prevents consenting adults from exchanging nude photos, so the issues may be different for people over 18.
What would you do?
Imagine a friend or acquaintance sent you a sexually explicit photograph. You can’t see the face so you can’t tell who the photo is. You can’t tell if he or she is underage.
Would you forward it to your friends? Yes or No, and why?
Would you delete it? Yes or no, and why?
Would you report it? Yes or no, and why?
Now imagine the photo was sent to you by a friend in high school and it was your sister.
What would you do? And why?
Here’s what Dr. Stoll has to say about what would happen if someone sexted her.