Expert: Parents should be aware of sexting as new school year begins

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

By Allison Jarrell
Pierre Capital Journal
Published Aug. 19, 2013

Some kids do it flirtatiously, while others do it to humiliate each other. The means and motives behind “sexting” vary in degree, but no matter the context, creating and distributing sexually explicit images or text can have severe consequences for youth, a South Dakota criminal justice expert said.

Sexting – a term coined to describe sexualized texting – most often occurs via cell phone camera and is common with “younger adults who have the technology and are at an age where sex is commonplace to them,” said Jesse Weins, assistant professor of criminal justice at Dakota Wesleyan University.

Weins has spent years researching and writing about the legal ramifications of sexting. He said the sexting conversation has shifted in recent years from prevalence to the associated risks and problems it incurs.

It’s a blurry line, according to Weins, who said risks and consequences all depend on a child’s age and the type of image or text distributed.

Weins said recent studies have found correlations between teenagers creating and forwarding sexual material of themselves or their peers and their likelihood of engaging in early or risky sexual behavior or other cyber victimizations – such as recording sexual assaults.

“A lot of people think of teen sexting as an isolated incident. They don’t realize that it is also generally tied to online pornography consumption,” Weins said. “We’re hitting probably the first generation ever, especially among young males, whose primary means of really seeing and understanding sexuality comes from online pornography.”

Weins added that increased sexting has also fueled the rise of adult predators, who often use their social media and online presence to take advantage of minors.

“Certainly kids who are actively engaged in posting sexual material of themselves and others are going to end up with bigger risks in those areas too,” he said.

Legal consequences for minors or juveniles involved in sexting are decided on a case-by-case basis. Weins said there are four or five civil and criminal laws that can be applied to each case, ranging from invasion of privacy to child pornography charges.

“With these new fields of pioneering technology, we just don’t really have any kind of a nationwide consistency on how to deal with them at this point,” Weins said. “I don’t think we will for some time. The level of change and the way technology has changed has just made it really hard to get to that point.”

Weins said it’s important that parents maintain oversight of property such as cell phones.

“Parents just plain need to be aware of their kids’ cell phone usage,” Weins said.

Jesse Weins is an assistant professor of criminal justice at DWU and dean of the College of Leadership and Public Service. Weins was one of the first in the nation to address teen sexting from a legal perspective. To read more, click here.

Categories: News
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