All the kids are doing it.
Maybe because it’s “cool,” their friends are doing it or they feel pressured to do it, teens today are taking sexually explicit pictures of themselves and sending them to each other.
The Hon. Stephanie Woodard, Hall County solicitor general, discussed the “sexting” trend and its possible legal ramifications Friday morning at the Children’s Center for Hope and Healing eighth annual Northeast Georgia Trauma Conference. The educational conference on ethics and trauma gathered regional mental health professionals for a full day of programming at the Brenau Downtown Center in Gainesville.
Woodard defined “sexting” as “the transmission of sexually suggestive or elicit information by an electronic device.”
“It doesn’t have to be pictures, though most frequently it is,” she said. “Most frequently, it is an explicit image of a child or person (who) has been transferred by an electronic phone … or any electronic device that takes pictures and transmits it from one user to another.”
Woodard said children 18 and younger who are sending these sexually suggestive messages can be charged with possession and/or distribution of child pornography.
“Some people are surprised to know they can be prosecuted for sexting words only,” she said. “But they can.”
Woodard said even if a teen takes the picture of him or herself, it can still be a crime. And no exceptions are written into law for couples who are dating. Sending, receiving or requesting sexual images of a minor is a crime, she said.
“Kids think it’s OK if they’re sending pictures of their own bodies to their own friends,” she said. “It is absolutely true that a child can be prosecuted and convicted for distributing child pornography, even if it is their own body or genitalia.”
Woodard challenged the audience Friday to remember children learn from the adults in their lives. She said parents can help change the “climate” for their children today by educating their children on the dangers of sexting.
Sam Shoemaker, executive director of the center, said Woodard’s presentation was perfect for their conference.
“She presented a workshop last year at our conference that I attended, and I was very impressed with it,” Shoemaker said. “We had seen so much of sexting with the kids we work with, and I thought it would be very important to share this with everyone today.”
Woodard said her intention was “to plant seeds” in the minds of the audience members.
Shoemaker said he hoped to do the same.
“Don’t be an ostrich and stick your head in the sand saying, ‘Well that’s a terrible problem, but my little Susie or Johnny would never do that,’” he said. “Go back, and look at the way you’re supervising the electronics in your home.”