Local News

Teens 'sexting' from phones may be calling for trouble

Posted February 25, 2009 6:03 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— Sexting – using cell phones to send nude photos or sexually explicit messages – has become an issue among parents and teens in the Triangle.

Suggestive text messages led parents to complain about inappropriate photos being sent to Salem Middle School students, according to Michael Evans, a spokesman for the Wake County school system. The incident happened after school hours and parents were alerted to the issue, Evans said.

The issue arises because texting has become a popular means of communication among teens.

Sydney Brunson, a senior at Durham's Jordan High School, said her texts are more about everyday life, but she does hear of others sending risqué photos using their phones.

“This is teenagers. We don’t necessarily think 10 steps ahead of us. We sort of think about the right now. We’re always in the present,” Brunson said.

What some may not realize is that those private photos have the potential to become very public.

"I know someone who had a picture that got sent to the entire football team last year, and it was a big issue. Everyone was calling her bad names and her reputation was destroyed," Brunson said.

“Even though you may not intend to put the photos on MySpace, they may end up there,” Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said.

If the sexually suggestive photos end up on a social networking site, like MySpace, they can become bait for sexual predators to stalk and find these teens, Shekita said.

Sexting is also a crime, Shekita said.

Taking and transmitting a sexually suggestive picture of someone under 18, even if it is of yourself, is a felony for the sender and the receiver. The pictures qualify as child pornography.

“It’s illegal to possess it. It’s illegal to transmit it to someone else,” Shekita said.

At least eight states have reports of teens being arrested for disseminating and possessing child pornography. Shekita said Wake County doesn't want to follow suit.

“I don’t want to target all these children and make them registered sex offenders,” Shekita said.

Brunson said the topic of sexting was discussed during one of her recent psychology classes. She said many students were unaware that the photos could be a crime.

"I don't think people understand the extent of how dangerous it can be," Brunson said.

Kay Phillips, the executive director of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina, a Durham based non-profit group aimed at reducing teen pregnancy rate, said parents need to be aware of the ramifications of sexting.

"This is something they're (parents) are going to have to face up to as much (as teens doing) drugs, drinking, having sex. It's something parents are going to have to sit down and talk with their kids about."

Phillips said several school systems across the state have called her group asking about the growing popularity of sexting and what they can do about it.