“What Goes Online, Stays Online: Protecting Online Reputations in a Sexting Cyberspace,” was the title of May’s ‘Online on Wednesday,’ panel discussion, which featured Monique Roth (Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section); Donna Rice Hughes (Enough is Enough); and Ting-Yi Oei (Assistant Vice Principal, Freedom High School in Loudon County, VA). The discussion focused on the issue of ‘sexting’, which refers to the recent phenomenon of kids sending sexually suggestive photos of themselves to other kids, who in turn post them on the Internet.
Roth said that prosecutors need a full tool kit at their disposal for child pornography cases but there may be alternative ways to deal with sexting by teens. Roth also said we should not be too quick to carve out exceptions for sexting cases because there may be instances where bad people are actually possessing and distributing child pornography, including images originally created by teens. While there will always be extremes, prosecutorial discretion gives law enforcement the ability not to charge innocent kids who may have these photos on their phones or on their computers. Rice Hughes pointed out that we should not be surprised that 1 in 5 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are sending sexually explicit photos around because we are living in a culture whereby sexual messages are everywhere. One of the problems is that we have “absentee cyber parents” who are not getting involved with their kid’s cyber world.
Assistant Principal Oei, told his story of being wrongly charged for having a copy of a sexually suggestive photo of an unnamed female minor on his computer which was given to him by a male student who was being investigated for having the photo on his phone. Oei thinks we need better policies in the schools to deal with this situation. Oei explained how schools can fill the role for vulnerable kids who may not have involved parents. He believes that his school missed an opportunity to teach kids about how to behave in a mobile environment after he was wrongly arrested. Donna Rice Hughes said that the generation brought up with this technology will make much better cyber parents and Stephen Balkam echoed that sentiment emphasizing the importance of building a culture of responsibility.