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Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. The term was first popularized around 2005, and is a portmanteau of sex and texting, where the latter is meant in the wide sense of sending a text possibly with images.
Sexting that involves teenagers sending explicit photographs of themselves to their peers has led to a legal gray area in countries that have strict anti-child pornography laws, such as the United States. Some teenagers who have texted photographs of themselves, or of their friends or partners, have been charged with distribution of child pornography, while those who have received the images have been charged with possession of child pornography; in some cases the possession charge has been applied to school administrators who have investigated sexting incidents as well. The images involved in sexting are usually different in both nature and motivation from the type of content that anti-child pornography laws were created to address.
The first known published mention of the term "sexting" was in a 2005 article in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. It has since been described as taking place worldwide. It has been reported in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., and Canada.
In a 2008 survey of 1,280 teenagers and young adults of both sexes on Cosmogirl.com sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20% of teens (13-19) and 33% of young adults (20-26) had sent nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves electronically. Additionally, 39% of teens and 59% of young adults had sent sexually explicit text messages. A sociologist at Colorado College interviewed 80 students and believes this claim is overblown; she claims "I had them go through their last ten messages, their last ten photos and I never saw it."
A 2009 UK survey of 2,094 teens aged 11 to 18 found that 38% had received an "offensive or distressing" sexual image via text or email.
Sexting is a result of advances in technology enabling new forms of social interaction. Messages with sexual content have been exchanged over all forms of historical media. Newer technology allows photographs and videos, which are intrinsically more explicit and have greater impact. A social danger with sexting is that material can be very easily and widely propagated, over which the originator has no control.
In 2007, 32 Australian teenagers from the state of Victoria were prosecuted as a result of sexting activity. Child pornography charges were brought against six teenagers in Greensburg, Pennsylvania in January 2009 after three girls sent sexually explicit photographs to three male classmates.
In 2008, a Virginia assistant principal was charged with possession of child pornography and related crimes after he had been asked to investigate a rumored sexting incident at the high school where he worked. Upon finding a student in possession of a photo on his phone that depicted the torso of a girl wearing only underpants, her arms mostly covering her breasts, the assistant principal showed the image to the principal who instructed him to preserve the photo on his computer as evidence, which he did. The court later ruled that the photo did not constitute child pornography because under Virginia law, nudity alone is not enough to qualify an image as child pornography; the image must be "sexually explicit". Loudoun County Prosecutor James Plowman stands by his initial assessment of the photo and says he would not have pursued the case if the assistant principal had agreed to resign. Instead, the assistant principal got a second mortgage on his house and spent $150,000 in attorneys' fees to clear his name.
In July 2010, Londonderry High School teacher Melinda Dennehy pled guilty and received a one-year suspended sentence for sending racy photos of herself to a 15-year-old student.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a teenage boy was indicted on felony obscenity charges for allegedly sending a photo of his genitals to several female classmates. Another boy was charged with child pornography in a similar case.
Police investigated an incident at Margaretta High School in Castalia, Ohio, in which a 17-year-old girl allegedly sent nude pictures of herself to her former boyfriend, and the pictures started circulating around the high school after the two got into a fight. The girl was charged with being an "unruly child" based on her juvenile status.
Two southwest Ohio teenagers were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a first-degree misdemeanor, for sending or possessing nude photos on their cell phones of two 15-year-old classmates.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. on March 25, 2009, for threatening teenage girls who were the subject of allegedly risque photos with prosecution on child pornography charges if they did not submit to a counseling program. The case is Miller, et al. v. Skumanick. Skumanick stated in an interview with Julie Chen on CBS News's The Early Show that his office decided to make an offer of limiting penalties to probation if they attend a sexual harassment program. The girls and their parents won a ruling that blocked the district attorney, who appealed. It is the first appeals court case concerning sexting.
In Connecticut, Rep. Rosa Rebimbas introduced a bill that would lessen the penalty for "sexting" between two consenting minors in 2009. The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor for children under 18 to send or receive text messages with other minors that include nude or sexual images. It is currently a felony for children to send such messages, and violators could end up on the state's sex offender registry.
Vermont lawmakers introduced a bill in April 2009 to legalize the consensual exchange of graphic images between two people 13 to 18 years old. Passing along such images to others would remain a crime.
In Ohio, a county prosecutor and two lawmakers proposed a law that would reduce sexting from a felony to a first degree misdemeanor, and eliminate the possibility of a teenage offender being labeled a sex offender for years. The proposal was supported by the parents of Jesse Logan, a Cincinnati 18-year-old who committed suicide after the naked picture of herself which she sexted was forwarded to people in her high school.
Utah lawmakers lessened the penalty for sexting for someone younger than 18 to a misdemeanor from a felony.
In New York, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-Rockland) has introduced a bill that will create an affirmative defense where a minor is charged under child pornography laws if they possesses or disseminates a picture of themself; or possess or disseminates the image of another minor (within 4 years of their age) with their consent. The affirmative defense will not be available if the conduct was done without consent. It also creates an educational outreach program for teens that promotes awareness about the dangers of sexting.
In popular culture
A 2009 episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation titled "Shoot to Thrill" shows Alli sexting Johnny after she learns about sexting and receives her brother Sav's old phone.
- Moral panic
- Deviancy amplification spiral
- Rainbow party
- Child pornography
- Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content
- Nudist photographs and videos involving minors
- Text roulette
- Teresa Edmond (2010-0221). "Ringwood community addresses sexting". NorthJersey.com. http://www.northjersey.com/news/education/84932002_Parents__students_get__the_4-1-1_on_sexting_.html. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
- The new pornographers, Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon.com, February 20, 2009
- Yvonne Roberts (2005-07-31). "The One and Only". p. 22. "Following a string of extramarital affairs and several lurid "sexting" episodes, Warne has found himself home alone, with Simone Warne taking their three children and flying the conjugal coop."
- Phil Hamilton (2008-07-12). "Teen 'sexting' alarms cyber-safety experts". The Press. p. A13.
- Inga Gilchrist (2008-06-23). "Student knickers in a not; 'Sexting' shocks parents, police". mX.
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- "Kids face porn charges over 'sexting'". National Nine News. Archived from the original on 2012-07-03. https://archive.is/eCCV. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
- Liz Porter (2008-08-10). "Malice in Wonderland". The Age. http://www.theage.com.au/news/technology/malice-in-wonderland/2008/08/09/1218139163632.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1. Retrieved 2009-01-14.
- Pilkington, Ed (2009-01-14). "Sexting craze leads to child pornography charges". London: Guardian News and Media. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/14/child-pornography-sexting. Retrieved 2009-01-14.
- Kim Zetter, 'Sexting' Hysteria Falsely Brands Educator as Child Pornographer, Wired.com (Apr. 3, 2009).
- Ting-Yi Oei, My Students. My Cellphone. My Ordeal., The Washington Post (Apr. 19, 2009).
- "Ex-Teacher Guilty Plea, Nude Photo of Melinda Dennehy Sent to Student". National Ledger. July 27, 2010. http://www.nationalledger.com/ledgerdc/article_272633569.shtml. Retrieved July 29, 2010.
- Martha Irvine, Porn charges for 'sexting' stir debate, Associated Press (Feb. 4, 2009).
- Castalia police look into complaint of nude photos sent by cell phone, Sandusky Register (Mar. 20, 2009).
- Leslie Bixler, Girl, 17, charged for sending naked photographs The News-Messenger (Apr. 3, 2009).
- Two Mason Teenagers Charged In 'Sexting' Case, WLWT (Mar. 4, 2009).
- Template:Cite press release
- "Miller, et al v. Skumanick". ACLU of Pennsylvania. http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/milleretalvskumanick. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
- "Sexting Girls Facing Porn Charge Sue D.A.". CBS News. 2009-03-27. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/27/earlyshow/main4896577.shtml. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
- "My 1st Bra, My 1st Sexual Offense". Psychology Today Blogs. 2009-03-29. http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-big-questions/200903/my-1st-bra-my-1st-sexual-offense. Retrieved 2009-04-02.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/81849207.html. Retrieved 28 August 2010.[dead link]
- Rookie Legislator In National Eye With Bill To Lessen 'Sexting' Penalty For Consenting Minors
- Vermont Considers Legalizing Teen 'Sexting', Associated Press (Apr. 13, 2009).
- Dick Russ, Ohio to address 'sexting' laws, WKYC-TV (Apr. 13, 2009).
- Utah lawmakers OK bill on 'sexting', Associated Press (Mar. 11, 2009).
- Christy Matte (May 5, 2009). "Sexting Goes Primetime". http://familyinternet.about.com/b/2009/05/05/sexting-goes-primetime.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
- The Middle Ages: Young people, texting and sexting, Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun, 6 January 2009.
- "Anatomy of a Child Pornographer,"'What happens when adults catch teenagers "sexting" photos of each other? The death of common sense.' Nancy Rommelmann, Reason Magazine, July 2009
- Amanda Lenhart, Teens and Sexting: How and why minor teens are sending sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images via text messaging, Pew Internet and American Life Project (Dec. 15, 2009).