June 19, 2012

Sexting a dangerous game

Not everyone who breaks the law is a real criminal. Most of the people I saw as defendants in Plattsburgh City Court made bad, even stupid, choices. Like the high-school kids who “sexted,” sending text or Twitter messages with nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves attached. The sender takes his or her own photos and willingly sends them to a boyfriend or girlfriend or someone else they trust.

They thought it was fun and expected it was private, just between the two of them. However, that is not guaranteed. The recipient can make it available for others, even the whole school, to see and share. This happens when kids get mad at each other or when images are shared with a couple of friends, who then share them with others.

It also happens when the recipient is deceiving you and is not the trustworthy person you thought. We’ve seen cases where the threat to post the photo is essentially used to try to blackmail the person, to make them do something they do not want to do, including staying in a relationship they want to leave.

An instant communication can have lifetime consequences.

At age 16 in New York state, a person who breaks the law is charged as an adult. So City Court and the district attorney see quite a few teenagers. After your 16th birthday, you no longer go to family court; your case is in criminal court.


New York has long had laws against harassing or intimidating another person. For decades, these cases involved taunts or threats made in person, by letter or telephone. Now such offensive behavior is more likely to be found on Facebook or Twitter or in text messages. Each of these methods can increase the harassment and devastating impact far beyond that of previous times. A single post on Facebook or Twitter is seen by multitudes. Although it is not sent directly to the targeted person, the harm to that victim can be far greater than if it were. It can influence others to join in the harassment and intimidation, and publicly humiliate the target. Offensive text messaging can be nonstop, sending dozens, hundreds of messages.

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