September 23, 2009

Group: Nation shouldn’t ignore ‘sexting’

Sexting by minors is a growing problem that the United States has yet to come to grips with, officials of a child advocacy group said.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released a policy statement on sexting -- sending, forwarding or receiving sexually suggestive or nearly nude photographs through text message or e-mail -- which is a product of extensive dialogue with leaders in the field. The statement was developed with the strong involvement of the American Bar Association's Center on Children and the Law.

There has been much concern that teens engaged in sexting would be criminally prosecuted and required to register as sex offenders, Ernie Allen, president of NCMEC said in a statement. That isn't happening. Yet, sexting is a large problem that we have to come to grips with as a nation. Some of these incidents are minor. Some are very serious.

Teens need to understand that once images are online -- 19 percent of teens surveyed by the NCMEC had sent, received, or forwarded sexually suggestive photos -- they can't get them back and they can affect a teen's future, Allen said.

NCMEC's policy statement also said in some instances, sexting entails serious criminal acts requiring investigation by law enforcement and action by authorities. The vast majority of these cases should be handled through the juvenile justice system with its rehabilitative ideal, but in some instances, more severe sanctions may be necessary, the policy statement said.