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Youthful communication could be against the law

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Dangers abound when young people start ‘sexting’

By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

In the face of ever-advancing technology, the innocence of youth is fading away.

Somewhere in the vast universe of constant communication and instant gratification, children seem to be getting – and sending – the wrong messages, in the form of a new method of c

ommunication known as “sexting.”

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the term “sexting” refers to youth sending sexually explicit messages and photos of themselves or others to their peers. The practice, which in some circles is just considered “kids being kids,” could rise above misguided and to the level of criminal activity, according to some law enforcement experts.

In fact, depending on the age of the “sexting” teens, charges up to and including possession of child pornography could be a result of what some teens and “tweens” might think is harmless fun.

“Sexting is a complex issue that covers a wide range of severity,” the NCMEC said in a recent policy statement. “Parents must become more involved in their children’s lives, be more aware of what they are doing, and set limits. Teens must become better informed about the implications and repercussions of their acts.”

Those implications can include not only unintentional embarrassment and victimization, but also lifelong consequences such as prosecution and sex offender registry, the NCMEC warns. In Texas, teens in possession of sexually suggestive images of classmates or companions under the age of 18 could face up to 10 years in prison.

A study performed in 2009 suggested that of the 9 million pornographic images of children produced, more than 10 percent of the children identified and “rescued” by NCME had self-produced the images in question. The study suggests the boys and girls, not thinking about the possibility of the images being resent, took the pictures with the intent of them being shared only with their friends.

Locally, Lockhart Junior High School principal Lora Hardway said she and her staff adhere to strict rules set out by the Lockhart Independent School District, in part to protect the students from the possibility of becoming involved in “sexting” investigations.

Under that policy, students are allowed to have telecommunication devices on campus and at school activities, but those devices must be concealed and not operational (turned off) during the instructional day. Further, students must have written permission from a parent or guardian to possess such devices at school.

Caldwell County Chief of Juvenile Probation Jay Monkerud said his office has not, to date, had any clients who have been prosecuted as a result of “sexting,” but said some of the youth engage in the practice.

Monkerud said he suspects “sexting” is growing in popularity because of the impersonal nature of the communication, and because of the growing availability of wireless communication devices.

“You can’t get a cell phone without a camera any more,” he said. “And it’s so impersonal… the kids aren’t thinking about being seen, because it’s not like someone else is in the room.”

Caldwell County District Attorney Trey Hicks said “sexting” has gotten court attention at the state level, and a case was expected to appear before the Supreme Court later this year. He confirmed, however , that no criminal prosecutions have come through his office to date.

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