DWU’s Weins to release book on youth sexting; first of its kind

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jesse Weins, assistant professor of criminal justice and dean of the College of Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University, will publish a book based on his previously published and nationally recognized research on teen sexting.  It will be the first book-length secondary resource on this topic in the U.S.

“Sexting and Youth: A Multidisciplinary Examination of Research, Theory, and Law,” edited by Todd C. Hiestand and W. Jesse Weins, will be available in print in May from Carolina Academic Press.

Weins co-edited the project, as well as wrote the opening chapter. He was assisted in research and editing by DWU human services major Darin Bartscher, of Emery, and Sarah Owens, a 2013 graduate with a human services and criminal justice double major.

Weins first co-authored the journal article “Sexting, Statutes, and Saved by the Bell: Introducing a Lesser Juvenile Charge with an ‘Aggravating Factors’ Framework” in 2009 in the Tennessee Law Review with Hiestand, professor of criminal justice at MidAmerica Nazarene University. At the time, they were among the first in the nation to address the subject of teen sexting laws and legal responses.

“We felt this subject was in need of policy analysis because in the beginning, justice system workers had no guidance whatsoever for how to approach these cases,” Weins said.

“Sexting” is the term coined to describe sexualized texting – especially sending sexually explicit photos or videos via cellular phones. Taking such photos of minors is punishable by law, but four years ago states didn’t differentiate in their state codes between  minors and adults  under traditional child pornography laws. Weins and Hiestand made the argument for a lesser juvenile legal response appropriate to the behavior.

Since then, the subject has been up for much debate.

“Positive steps have been made in the last five years towards better responses for teen sexting,” Weins said. “But even now there is not uniformity in how to approach the topic, neither in law nor policy. It remains a challenging area, compounded by deeply held views about youth and sex and technology, which prevent agreements from person to person and place to place. Most people see the reason for legal intervention in some of these cases but not others. But they often disagree on what kinds of cases those are, what should be done, and how to approach communicating with youth. 

“At least half of the U.S. states have reviewed the question of law and policy, with nearly half the states passing some form of legislation either directly addressing the issue or amending their statutes to accommodate these situations in their present laws.”

In other Western nations like Canada and Australia, province by province decisions are being made.

Weins was eager to include students in the research process because he knows that hands-on experience is important in education.

“As a student, it’s helpful to see the research and publishing side of academia, since it demystifies the whole process,” he said. “Seeing this process and having that experience sheds light on scholastic work and higher education.  It’s helpful for faculty to include students, especially in topics like this where youth are involved, to get a different perspective, to get their take on it.”

DWU is a private, liberal arts university associated with the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church.  For more information about Dakota Wesleyan University and the criminal justice department, click here.

Categories: News
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