EL PASO, Texas — A young high school girl in Cincinnati committed suicide because her boyfriend leaked photos of her naked to the whole community.
The leaked photo caused so much humiliation, ridicule and abuse that it drove the young teen into hanging herself. This story made national headlines a few years back because the sexting phenomena and its effects were just starting to become a fad.
The personal words and intimate photos that used to be part of love letters and kept private in an intimate relationship are now becoming public on mobile phones. The new it thing is called “sexting.”
UTEP’s Women’s Resource Center along with the Sexual Trauma & Assault Response Services (STARS), told students that “sexting” has both legal and personal consequences.
The spokesperson for STARS, Katherine Jones said, “Many people sext today with another person without thinking of the damage that sending sexual content (i.e. pictures and messages) via text or e-mail can have on their reputation, careers and their future if that content happens to slip into the wrong hands.”
There is currently no legal definition of sexting, but according to the Teen Health section of About.com, “Sexting is the use of a cell phone or other similar electronic devices to distribute sexually explicit pictures or video. It can also refer to text messages of a sexually-charged nature.”
Sexting has always been around with use of mail and e-mail, but with the advent of cell phones, sexting is now more prevalent than ever among today’s youth.
One study done by C&R Research shows that 22 percent of young children (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18) own cell phones.
In a study done in 2006 to 2008, the Nielsen Company showed that U.S. teens ages 13-17 text-messaged an average of 1,742 times a month. That age group more than doubles the amount of texting done by the next closest group.
“Anytime a person is in a relationship they are very happy and do things with that person because they feel it is real love and that it will last forever. Being in that situation often causes people to lose their better judgment and therefore send sexual content to the person they are dating.” Jones says.
Sexting often starts out small with a few words here and a picture there. As time goes by those few words and little revealing pictures turn into elaborate sexual content and even pornographic picture or videos, according to Jones.
UTEP student Brooks Pierce said, “Back in high school there were some pictures going around of some a girl that her ex-boyfriend started passing around here locally, and within a few weeks, people from other schools had received the pictures as well.”
Under Texas Law most of the legal ramifications that come with sexting have to do with sexually explicit material being passed along depicting people under the age of 18. Photographs or pictures with under aged people are considered child pornography and classified as a third degree felony. If the subject is under 14 years of age, the law considers that a second degree felony.
“What initially starts off as a joke to either get back at the other person, or something that was sent just to show off, can lead to so serious personal damage to that person in the picture, even if there are no laws in place for making sexting between adults illegal,” says Jones.
Jones talked about another story involving an adult woman losing her high profile job because of pictures that surfaced from years back that she sent an ex-boyfriend. Not only were the pictures sent to her boss but they were also sent to her friends, family and even her new fiancé.
“I know a lot of [sexting] is going on here at UTEP but people don’t think about its long-term effects,” says UTEP student Aaron Martinez.
If students came into this presentation with no previous knowledge of sexting, they left with much more awareness of what it involved. “The presentation gave a more specific definition about [sexting] and how it’s basically a felony and if you do it, it could never get erased,” says Elizabeth Aguilera, another UTEP student.
Although sexting may be all fun and games at first, the next time you decide to do it, really ask yourself what you would do or what would happen if these pictures or messages found their way to mom and dad and the general public.