What is Sexting? And is it truly harmless?

At 4:10 PM, Chris finishes basketball practice. He’s sweaty and he’s stinky; he’s ready to shower and chillax on the sofa – remote in one hand, a large bag of Hot Cheetos in the other. When Chris gets home, he notices his cell phone beeping in his left pocket. He fishes it out, flips it open, and in a little blue box on his cell phone screen, Chris reads –

1 Msg

From: Stacy.

He smiles to himself. Stacy. He just can’t get enough of her. They’d been going out for a week now, and it all seems so perfect. He still remembers all those nights he spent, lying around in bed staring at the ceiling and wondering to himself: When? When am I gonna ask her out? When Chris finally did – when he went up to Stacy’s locker and mumbled something about prom, and when Stacy giggled and said yes – Chris couldn’t stop grinning like a lunatic for the rest of the day.

Excited, Chris opens up the message to see what his girlfriend has to say. His eyes skip over the text – im thinking bout u baby – to stare at the picture of Stacy – Stacy wearing nothing but black lingerie. “Wow,” he says to himself, disbelieving. “Wow . . .” He closes his cell phone shut. Stares at it. Then opens it up again to get another glimpse of Stacy-in-Black-Lingerie. He can’t believe it. Oh man, he thinks. Oh man, oh man, oh man! Wait until Justin hears about this . . . !

So you’re all wondering: What happens next? Does Chris show Justin the picture? Does Chris text her back? What will he say? How many other friends will Chris show this to? Will Chris and Stacy get married? Will they break up? And what does that picture have to do with any of this, anyway?

It turns out that a lot can happen from just that one photograph. The exchange between Stacy and Chris is called “Sexting” – something that nearly all high schoolers know about. Sexting is basically sending each other pictures of nude or semi-nude photos of yourself or of someone you know through the phone or Internet. It’s the new trend among high schoolers. A survey done last fall revealed that at least 20% of teens have sent or posted sexually suggestive photographs and/or videos of themselves; 22% were teenaged girls; 18% were teenaged boys.

And sexting is “not a big deal,” according to 17-year-old Matthew Younger. In an ABC News article, Younger said that:

“If a boy meets a girl or has a girlfriend on summer break he comes back and shows all his boys the [naked] pictures he’s been sent. No one gives it that much thought really.”

So Sexting is “cool.” It’s fast, it’s technological – it’s the edgiest way to flirt with your boyfriends, girlfriends or crushes. Some call it fun. Some call it gross. Authorities call it child pornography and, yes, you can go to prison for as long as seven years – even if you’re only sixteen years old.

The thing about sexting is that it’s been on the news for years now – the most well-known case being that of Disney’s High School Musical star, Miss Vanessa Hudgens. Photos of nude and semi-nude pictures of Hudgens circulated throughout the internet, creating a scandal out of the then 18-year-old teen’s life. The photos were allegedly done in private. But are these photos ever truly private?

Like Younger mentioned earlier, it’s not unusual for friends to share sexy photos of their girlfriends and boyfriends with one another. “No one gives it much thought.” But what if someone leaks out a photograph to someone else?

Let’s go back to Stacy and Chris. What if their relationship takes a turn for the worse? What if Stacy and Chris break up, and someone – either Chris or Stacy or any number of their friends – decide to ruin the other person out of anger, jealousy, revenge or spite?

That was what happened to 18-year-old Jessica Logan. Jesse – like Vanessa Hudgens and 20% of all high school teens – sent her boyfriend naked photos of herself. After the couple broke up, Jesse’s boyfriend – for whatever reason – sent these photos to other girls. Since then, Jesse was tormented, ridiculed and taunted by those girls and nearly everyone around her. They called her a “slut” and an “attention-seeking whore.” Jesse’s reputation was ruined, and along with it, her self-image. She began skipping classes, sank into depression, and finally, in July 2008, she hanged herself in her room – her cell phone left on the middle of her floor.

If you’re somebody who’s as impatient as I am, then just watch the first three minutes of CBSNews’ video cover of Jesse’s suicide; you only need to sacrifice three minutes to understand her situation. Two months prior to her suicide, Jesse gave an interview. She sat in a shadowed room, wearing a black, nondescript hoodie. She requested her voice to be warped so that she’ll be unrecognizable. After these barriers were put in place, Jesse told her story – her warning – hoping that “no one else will have to go through this again.”

Sexting might seem like nothing serious – just casual, random fun. But Jesse proved to us that it could lead to disastrous, life-changing results. According to this ABC News article, a 17-year-old from Wisconsin was charged for child pornography after having posted naked pictures of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend online. In Pennsylvania, MSNBC reported six high school students arrested for manufacturing and possessing child pornography. This CBSNews video covers the story.

In the interview, American Lawyer Lisa Bloom states that Sexting is a “serious felony” that can result in several years in prison and your name permanently listed as a sex offender. The consequences of Sexting are severe – both legally and personally.

“Once they’re out there,” Bloom says, “you can’t get them back.” So even if you weren’t caught sending nude photographs of yourself, there’s still a chance that those photographs will get circulated. And when they do – when all of these photos find themselves on Facebook or Myspace or Google Images – anyone will have access to them, including your employers, colleges you hope to apply for, criminal authorities, or the future love of your life.

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