We live in a digital age where quite a few things are available right at our fingertips. Surfing the internet on a cell phone is about as easy as it is on a computer. Facebook and Twitter allow others to keep up with where their friends are emotionally, socially, and physically at any given time of the day thanks to cell phones.

While the cell phone has been a wonderful invention, it has also been the root of one, very serious problem: sexting. Sexting is the sending and receiving of sexually explicit text messages and pictures on a cell phone.

Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough met with Orangefield High School students last week to explain the consequences and legal issues of sexting.

“Our goal is to give them information,” Kimbrough said. “We just want them to know what the law is. There is so much bad information out there. I’m going to tell them what the law is today in Texas and what the consequences are.

When kids take sexually explicit pictures, they are probably intended solely for their significant other. However, it doesn’t always stop there, that person could share it with his or her friends. Once it gets transmitted, it’s out there and can’t be undone.

“It can really be bad for the person who’s in the picture because it may get on to some pornographic site, it may not,” Kimbrough said. “Five years later, that 16 year old girl is now 21 or 22 and she gets her first job and all of a sudden, that picture pops up. Here’s the topless picture of Ms. So-and-so. It can haunt them for the rest of their life.”

It may not even stop there. An Ohio teen sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend. When they broke up, he forwarded that picture to all of the girls he knew at the school. Those girls bullied her, calling her a slut and a whore. The teens mother came home to find that her daughter had committed suicide.

The simple truth is that what could be considered by some a simple prank, could actually lead to a felony conviction. High School students that posses images on their phones of others 16 and under can be charged with possession of child pornography.

The child pornography statues were written before anyone anticipated the wide spread need of cell phones, but sending sexually explicit photos of children 16 and under fall under the statue.

Adults (17 and older) found in possession of it can be charged with possession of child pornography, which is a third degree felony and comes with two to ten years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, and registration as a sex offender. Transmitting those photos can is considered promotion of child pornography, which is considered a second degree felony and comes with two to 20 years in prison instead. Those 16 and under will be prosecuted as juveniles, but it is still the same crime.

It’s not illegal for two consenting adults to take sexually explicit photos of themselves and send it to each other. “That’s their business,” Kimbrough said. “but they may not be your boyfriend [or girlfriend] forever. Your husband may become your ex-husband. Those images just have a way of coming back to haunt you.”

There have been several cases dealing with possession of sexually explicit photos of minors in Orange County. Kimbrough wasn’t sure how many were prosecuted.
“I’m not saying it’s a [severe] problem, but it’s out there and it’s not just local [issue],” he said. “It’s a state and national issue. Kids today communicate by text messages, instant messaging, Facebook, social networking. It’s a different way of doing things and it leads to this because it’s an easy way of doing it.”

It’s not illegal for kids to send sexually explicit text messages to each other as long as it is consentual. When it is unwanted and offends the person receiving those text messages, then it’s consider sexual harassment.

So, how can sexting be stopped? Legally, it can’t be prevented without taking away from people’s rights. It all comes down to accountability.

“Kids are drinking, doing drugs, having sex before they should be,” Kimbrough said. “Kids need good direction.”

About Nicole Gibbs

Editor of The Record Newspapers