Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Warning: Teen 'sexting' can kill

Warning: Teen 'sexting' can kill
Tue, Mar 24, 2009
The New Paper

DANGEROUS and illegal, "sexting" among teens is becoming a serious problem in the US and Britain.

Sexting refers to teens sending racy pictures of themselves to their friends using handphones. Sadly, they don't realise the consequences can be deadly until it is too late.

Like 18-year-old Jesse Logan who killed herself last year.

She used her handphone to send such pictures of herself to her boyfriend. When they broke up, he forwarded the images to others in her school. Her life became a nightmare.

Jesse, a cheerful girl looking forward to university, began skipping classes, reported MSNBC. She eventually told her mother, Ms Cynthia Logan, about the pictures and that a group of younger girls were harassing her, calling her vicious names, even throwing things at her.

Jesse's friend, Lauren Taylor, told NBC News: "When she would come to school, she would always hear, "Oh, that's the girl who sent the picture. She's just a whore." Ms Logan suggested talking to the parents of the girls who were bullying her, but Jesse told her that would only open her to even more ridicule.

"She said, 'No, I need to do something else. I'm going to go on the (TV) news,' and that's what she did," Ms Logan said. Jesse's purpose was simple: "I just want to make sure no one else will have to go through this again."

The interview was in May 2008. Two months later, Jesse hanged herself in her bedroom.


Ms Logan is now taking her story public to warn kids about the dangers of sending sexually charged pictures and messages to boyfriends and girlfriends.

"It's very, very difficult. She was my only child. I'm trying my best to get the message out there," she said.

Last year, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy surveyed teens and young adults about sexting.

The results revealed that 39 per cent of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages, and 48 per cent reported receiving such messages. Internet security expert Parry Aftab, who is also an activist in the battle to protect teens from cyberspace dangers, said that sexting is illegal in the US.

"It depends on the age of the child. If somebody's under the age of 18, it's child pornography, and even the girl that posted the pictures can be charged. They could be registered sex offenders at the end of all of this. "Even at the age of 18, because it was sent to somebody underage, it's disseminating pornography to a minor. There are criminal charges that could be made here."

Over in Britain, there are growing concerns about the problem as well, reported the Daily Mail. Journalist Penny Marshall said she discovered the trend during a BBC Radio 4 investigation into online pornography.

She wrote: "My guide into this disturbing universe was an A-level student. I'd come to talk to her and (her friends)... at their prestigious school about the impact that watching pornography may be having on today's youngsters.

"I certainly was not prepared to hear they were also producing it." She said what she found out is bound to worry parents. One girl told her: "Over the holidays, I went to a party with people from my old school and one of the girls was on her bed with nothing on. She had loads and loads of make-up on, so you could see that she'd thought about it."

"I'm not sure exactly who she sent the photos to, but one of the boys at this school now has it." Several girls told the journalist that they were often pestered to send explicit photos of themselves to boys. "I said no to that," one girl told her. "But I know girls who give in really easily. It's horrifying and illegal."

Mr John Carr of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety said: "What some of today's youngsters are doing is, by any civilised, contemporary standards, obscene. It also happens to be illegal. It's a genuinely new problem, which is the result of the emergence of new technology together with an increasing cultural tolerance (in Britain) of pornography."


He said that in Britain, publishing any photograph of someone under 18 which is of a sexual nature is illegal. "So children who put pornographic photographs of themselves online or share the material via their mobile phones are, technically, breaking the law," he said.

So far, 90 children in Britain have been cautioned as a result of posting sexual material of themselves or their underage friends online or on their mobile phones.

Mr Geoff Barton, headmaster of King Edward VI School, believes that children are living in a society with far too low a tolerance threshold for pornography.

Children in Britain are being sexualised far too young, he believes. This is contributing to the emergence of their online sexual behaviour."Any school that says it is not an issue for them is putting their heads in the sand," he said.

"Parents are at a loss. We need to rewrite the parenting handbook."

Mr Carr said sexting or posting pictures online can do lasting and irreversible damage to future chances of success.

"Children feel invincible online. They believe the material they are producing is private. But they are wrong on both counts.

"We've had documented accounts of employers, and universities and colleges, trawling the net looking for information about prospective candidates. "This behaviour can have longlasting effects. What goes online stays online - forever."


39% post sex messages
48% say they get such messages

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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