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'Sexting' can cause problems for the sender later on
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If you have not heard the term "sexting," parents especially, should be clued in. The term means using a cell phone or similar devices like a Blackberry or iPhone to send sexually explicit messages and/or pictures. Typically, sexting involves sexually explicit communications between teens, and frequently, semi-nude or nude pictures that are transmitted to other persons.

First, there is the potential, if not likelihood, that pictures or communications of a private nature will end up in the hands of unintended recipients. The high-tech age we live in make it easy to send messages, information or pictures to multiple (if not hundreds) of people instantly. This is great when high-tech is used for good purpose, but it is an entirely different situation when a teenage girl sends an indiscreet picture of herself to a boyfriend. The relationship may go sour, and the boyfriend, as an act of revenge may forward the picture to any number of other people in order to cause embarrassment and humiliation. The situation I am describing happens all over the country, every day!

Images that start out on a cell phone are completely transferable to the Internet where they can be sent and duplicated literally millions of times. And for the unfortunate person whose picture is on display, it can set the stage for years of problems. Once that picture leaves the cell phone, the "owner" of it completely loses control over where it may end up. Just as easily as a picture or message can be forwarded to others, it can be uploaded to the internet with a click of a button, where it could be displayed on any number of social networking or photo sharing sites.

The problems and social implications of sexting are, perhaps obvious enough; however, what appears obvious to many people is more elusive to yet others - particularly to those who are doing the sexting.

Beyond the aforementioned problems, there looms an even bigger threat to sexters in the form of criminal penalties. California Penal Code Section 311.1 a) states: "Every person who knowingly sends or causes to be sent... or exchanges with others, any obscene matter, knowing that the matter depicts a person under the age of 18 years personally engaging in or personally simulating sexual conduct, as defined in Section 311.4, shall be punished either by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, by a fine not to exceed $1,000, or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison, by a fine not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by the fine and imprisonment." Federal law also prohibits the conveyance of sexually explicit pictures of persons under 18 years of age via any electronic media.

It is also important to keep in mind that a person convicted of one of the sexting-related offenses will likely be required by law to register as a sex offender. Registered sex offenders are subject to restrictions designed to keep them from victimizing again, and are required to register with their local police department on a regular basis. The fact that a person is a registered sex offender is public information. Having that status also may affect employment, where one can live, and brings with it many other burdens that have life-long implications. In short, a registered sex offender loses many freedoms enjoyed by the rest of our population.

Sexting may seem innocent enough, but it opens the door to situations fraught with difficulties. Persons involved with this activity stand a lot to lose. Adults who engage in sexting should be aware of the risks they take when sending suggestive pictures/messages electronically, and should expect them to be viewed by more than just the recipient they intended it for. All the time, messages like these are forwarded among friends, to the internet, are discovered by someone who is looking through a device (even your kids), or intentionally publicized for malicious purposes.

More importantly, parents need to be aware of this trend among children. One teenager sending messages to another may seem innocent enough, until those messages are circulated among classmates, to adults, posted online, and there is only one way to prevent such embarrassment and humiliation - NOT sending such messages. A good policy to abide by is if it is not a picture/message that you would want your parents/boss/children to see, it is probably not a good idea to send it. Talk openly with your children, monitor their electronic devices, and keep yourself educated on these issues so you can protect yourself and your families.