Mary, Nate, and their seventeen-year-old son, Gabe, had been friends with a couple and their fourteen-year-old daughter Chloe since both kids were little. The two families regularly spent holidays and family vacations together. Both families loved to camp, so they were looking forward to an upcoming trip.
After the two families made it to their campsite and set up the pop-up trailers, Gabe and Chloe went for a hike by themselves. When they stopped to take a breather, Gabe took out his phone. Then he asked Chloe if he could take photos of her—without her clothes on.
Chloe agreed without even a weird look. After all, she and Gabe had been like brother and sister almost their entire lives and had shared lots of things together. They both pretended it was a professional photo shoot, and Gabe took numerous shots. After finishing their hike, they returned to the campsite with no thought of what either of them had done.
Several months later, the photos were randomly discovered on Gabe’s phone by one of his baseball coaches, who was required by law to report possible child abuse to the police. Gabe was immediately arrested and jailed.
Chloe’s parents went to the District Attorney and pleaded for him not to press charges against Gabe. “What he did was wrong,” they told the DA, “but he’s never done anything like this before. He’s a good kid.”
Despite their request, the DA decided to make an example out of Gabe and charged him with a felony. Gabe was found guilty of possession of child pornography. It was very likely that Gabe would be convicted and labeled as a sex offender for his entire adult life.
The one-time inappropriate photo shoot will have long-lasting impacts on the teens’ lives and the lives of their families. During the court proceedings, the families learned that Gabe shared the photos of Chloe with several of his baseball teammates. Chloe was horrified and refused to return to that school. Her parents were able to get her into another school district, but not without time and expense. Additionally, the long-term friendship between the two families was torn to pieces.
People who sext may be charged with producing, distributing, or possessing child pornography and sexting. The seriousness of sexting offenses is not always fully understood by the participants or their parents, but all fifty states have some type of legal enforcement in place.
According to the Mobile Media Guard website, the severity of the charges that might be leveled against a teen caught with sexually explicit images on her phone can be “sobering.” In states that have not specifically addressed sexting, it’s possible that the authorities will defer to child pornography laws to address the matter. And since most teenagers don’t pay for their own cell phone accounts, it’s likely that their parents will be held legally responsible and monetarily liable for their actions. For all these reasons, it’s crucial that you take steps to become technologically savvy and keep pace with the ways that cell phones can be used.
As the previous story shows, sexting is a particularly dangerous use of social media that can lead not only to legal problems but also to psychological distress and suicidal thoughts. As parents, we need to do all we can to protect and educate our kids about this practice.
- “U.S. Sexting Laws and Regulations: State Laws Overview,” Mobile Media Guard, http://mobilemediaguard.com/state_main.html (accessed September 11, 2018).