Schools see increase in ‘sexting’
SPRUCE PINE – Cellphones can make things easier for students to communicate with their parents after school or in emergency situations, but as technology advances, new problems arise.
“Sexting,” or sending provocative pictures via multimedia messages or through mobile applications, has become a serious issue in Mitchell County Schools, said Superintendent Chad Calhoun.
Calhoun said just since spring break, the number of documented sexting incidents in area schools has quadrupled.
Some students use standard multimedia messages to send photos, but applications like Snapchat are making things quicker and easier.
Snapchat allows users to send photos that only appear for a few seconds. The photos, however, can be screenshotted within the allotted time, saved to a phone and shared with others.
“Most parents pay for the cellphones,” Calhoun said. “A lot of them don’t realize all of the applications kids can use to send and save pictures.”
Calhoun said most of the cases take place at the high school level, but there have been some cases in middle schools.
“I don’t think kids realize the seriousness of it,” Calhoun said. “It may start out as an intended joke, but it gets way out of proportion. They don’t realize it’s child pornography and it can ruin their futures.”
Seth Banks, District Attorney for the 24th Prosecutorial District, which includes Mitchell County, has been visiting area schools this month to discuss the issue of sexting and the consequences.
Banks and Calhoun agree the biggest concern is that the photos will be spread and may fall into the wrong hands.
“There are predators out there who are trying to capitalize on these kinds of photos in order to blackmail young people,” Banks said. “We’ve seen instances in my work where we had to prosecute predators who have taken advantage and exploited children simply because they feel they have nowhere to turn.”
Taking and possessing a nude picture of a minor is a Class-C felony and offenders can face up to 19 years in prison for the crime.
“It’s a very serious offense,” Banks said. “I try to emphasize in my discussions with young people that they need to be aware of the consequences that are out there.”
Banks’ efforts are aimed at stopping the spread of lewd photos at the earliest stages of the process.
“I try to convey some of the social connotations of sending these things,” he said. “If these photos get out, the fact is, you can’t bring them back once you hit send. They’re out of your control then.”
Mitchell County Schools plans to address the policy over the summer and may look into adjustments.
“We don’t want to say no cellphones in schools,” Calhoun said. “It’s so tricky. We can’t really punish for what happens off campus. If it happens on campus, our school resource officers stay busy with it and it takes up their time. If it happens off campus, we just have to turn it over to the police or sheriff’s departments.”
Calhoun said the cases aren’t limited to one socioeconomic status or grade level and both males and females send pictures, he added.
Calhoun said educating parents and students on the seriousness of the issue is a good start toward stopping the problem.
Banks agrees, which is why he’s putting so much effort into speaking at schools. He added no one wants to see students get into legal trouble – the main focus is on their safety and privacy.
“We want the individuals to stop the behavior but at the same time, we’re not necessarily throwing the books at these kids,” Banks said. “They are producing child pornography but we try to inject a healthy dose of reason and common sense into the charging decisions. There are several aspects of this that are concerning.
“From a public policy perspective, the primary consideration I have as an officer of the court is the safety of the children involved, ensuring they’re safe and taken care of and that they are knowledgeable of the fact that these situations can develop in ways they didn’t expect them to.”