February is? National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Annually, aproximately one of four teens will report being the victim of verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual violence.? Sexting can result in emotional abuse and is a serious issue. But don't take it from us, hear what our Teen Contributing Writer, Ella, has to say. This is the first article in a 3-part series discussing Teen Dating Violence (Part 2:? What is Teen Dating Violence, Part 3:? Solutions).
The word “predators” has gained a bit of a tired connotation following the social networking “boom”. At first, stories of teenagers being kidnapped by adults who posed as cute boys in chat rooms littered the nightly news and many parents were terrified to allow their teens access to email. But, if you look at yahoo news lately, those same stories don’t seem to appear as often as they used to. Perhaps that is because we’re getting smarter, but more than likely, it’s just old news. Facebook is here to stay (thank heavens!) and unfortunately because of the inherent risk of online predators conversations about internet safety will continue to be important.
But, I don't want to talk about the pedophiles lurking on the other side of the screen (although they are probably a good topic for another day). I want to talk about a new danger brought on by the technology we all know and love. Only this time the solution is simple and it falls on you.
Sexting is an issue that has, within the last few years, become increasingly prevalent in the news and has become a rampant problem among teenagers with camera phones. Sexting, for those of you who may not know, is “the sending or forwarding of nude, sexually suggestive or explicit photos” (athinline.org). From my experience as a high school student--likely not all that different from yours—sexting is so prevalent that it is often an expectation in a dating relationship. Why is sexting so common? Because sexting is easy. Someone can do it and delete the conversations and/or pictures without parents or friends ever having to know and sexting doesn’t run the same risks as other forms of sexual interaction. This way of thinking is dangerous and flawed.
Sexting is boundary-less and its damage is theoretically limitless. In two seconds an angry partner can forward compromising pictures to his entire contact list. Then what do you think those people will do? That juicy piece of gossip that was intended only for a boyfriend will end up on the phone of the entire high school. One risqué picture has the potential to smear a reputation and hold major consequences for the sender/ receiver/ photographer. Any picture taken of a minor who is nude or photographed in a sexually provocative way is considered child pornography. Those involved in the production or those in possession of such pictures (anyone who receives the picture) can and in many cases will be subject to severe legal consequences, consequences which range anywhere from a misdemeanor to time in jail and a spot on the sex offender registry (depending upon the state). And prosecutors have been known to press these charges.
We, as teens, are famous for looking only at the immediate effects of the choices we make. Maybe you’re thinking that if you send that guy a picture, he will want to go out with you or that he will stay with you. He won’t. It’s that simple, and it’s just not worth it. I know it is scary to stand up against your peers and even your friends to make the right choices and speak out against the wrong choices. Believe me, we are sitting in the same boat. But, if we don’t say anything, if we don’t do anything to try and educate our friends about the dangers of sexting, how else will we put an end to this pandemic?
Maybe that is not the question we should be trying to answer; maybe the real question is what we can do to help one another, how can we start a conversation? Stay tuned for the answers to these questions and more.
(This article has been adapted from a post originally published for the Joyful Heart Foundation. www.joyfulheartfoundation.org) If you have a story you would like to contribute, please contact us at popcosmo.