Teens, teachers, and parents have been thrown into turmoil in Lacey, Wash., over a sexting scandal that started when an eighth-grade girl texted a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend, according to The New York Times. They broke up, and he shared the image with another girl, who in turn distributed it widely with the text, "Ho alert!" Soon, thousands of middle schoolers had seen it. Police accused the former boyfriend and two girls of disseminating child pornography, although the charge was lessened to harassment in a plea deal. The case illustrates just how hard it is for school administrators, parents, and police to stop kids from trading sexually explicit photos of themselves in this digital age. Is harsh punishment the answer?
Yes, criminal charges could help: Charging these teens with a felony turned the case "into an opportunity to teach young people about the dangers of sexting," say the editors of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But the 14-year-olds who were "burned by playing with fire" aren't the only ones who need a wake-up call. The "parents who were out of the loop" and failed to protect their children in the first place are culpable, too.
"Sexting in Lacey: A cautionary tale"
Criminalizing kids' mistakes just makes matters worse: This case belongs "in a handbook for 'Ways Not to Deal With 13-Year-Old Children,'" says Rosie Gray in The Village Voice. It's obvious to all that "kids can't handle nude pictures of each other responsibly." But teenagers have always bullied each other and made bad decisions about sex — cell phones and the internet just make it easier. And arresting them just compounds the damage.
"Sexting today: Teenagers are awful, the Times reports"
This is a powerful cautionary tale, despite ineffective laws: It's important to share this horror story, says Sandy Hingston at Philadelphia. Kids need to know "a thoughtless click-and-send can have consequences." And existing child porn laws, which "don't take into account the age of the perp," are not set up to deal effectively "with kids being, well, kids."
"A sexting horror story"