Teen sexting awareness in Tennessee

By Amanda Lowrance

Technology is moving forward, and so is the way people communicate.

Sexting is going into the Tween Generation as one of many growing technological problems recently debated. The new tween term sexting is the transmission of indecent photographs or comments from one cell phone to another. 

Twenty percent of teenagers have sent nude or semi-nude photographs or videos of themselves, 22 percent girls and 18 percent boys according to a recent survey by The National Campaign. Thirty-nine percent of teenagers admit to sending sexually suggestive messages with 37 percent of them girls and 40 percent boys.

 “Typically, those offenses are charged in Juvenile Court,” said 25th Judicial District Attorney General, Mike Dunavant, “as either harassment by electronic means or some sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means.

“In some instances, they can constitute child pornography. These cases do happen, and they are properly investigated by school systems, juvenile court officers, and other law enforcement.”

Statistical information regarding teen sexting in west Tennessee cannot be provided since juvenile court records are confidential and sealed according to Dunavant.

Regardless, this is a real issue, as even transmission of an inappropriate photograph is grounds for felony charges. Felony charges, including creation, possession, and distribution of child pornography is the penalty in Tennessee for teen sexting.

Not only is the person caught with a nude teen photograph charged, but so are the people who transmitted the photo and the teen in the actual photo. Defendants are required to register as a sex offender if charged. Depending on the case, the severity can include lesser punishment with plea bargains.

Teens are unsure to whether sexting is ethical; they view it as being youthful and fun, but then on the other hand it can have serious and long-term consequences.Many teens are pressured into sexting by their boyfriends and girlfriends.

The argument on whether or not sexting should be considered a crime and whether someone caught sexting should be labeled a sex offender is a big issue.

Some say laws should be passed to regulate sexting and several are petitioning the severity of punishment on teens and pushing for misdemeanors. One argument is that these laws interfere with the laws written in the Constitution involving the protected rights of speech and privacy.

Punitive action has taken effect to breaking the sexting violation, but at a cost. Not only do the teenagers endure a lifetime of embarrassment from sexting, they will face federal punishment that will last a lifetime. Even with the harsh punishments, the numbers continue to rise.

Technically, according to Tennessee laws, an adult 18 years of age can have sex with a partner who is 16 but cannot see that partner naked.

In Gallatin, Tennessee an 18-year-old student was charged with several crimes for requesting and receiving photos from his 16-year-old girlfriend in 2009. The complication has raised awareness in the community and it doesn’t stop at cell phones or with Representative Anthony Weiner.

“I have not noticed it at all at MCHS,” said assistant principal Scott Powers. “We do have cell phone violations as all other schools do, but they have not involved sexting that I am aware of.”

Parents and teachers should consider talking to kids about what they are doing in cyberspace, know who they are communicating with, and consider limitation on all electronic communication. Stay alert and vigilant on what kids are posting, and set fixed expectations on what is suitable and appropriate.