Port Aransas students are warned about ‘sexting’
Port Aransas youths haven’t been involved in any headline-making controversies over sexting, but schools here are taking steps to make clear the consequences of the activity.
The school district on Dec. 8 brought in Casey Scott-Mitchell, a community educator from The Women’s Shelter of South Texas to give a talk to parents and teachers about sexting. Port Aransas Police Chief Scott Burroughs also spoke.
Mitchell defined sexting as “the act of sending any sexually explicit messages or pictures electronically.” It can be done by cell phone, e-mail or through social networking sites.
Mitchell also spoke on the subject to sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students at Brundrett Middle School Dec. 16.
Port Aransas High School Principal Travis Longanecker said he expects the high school to bring Mitchell in to speak to students in March or April.
Sexting is getting the attention of parents, educators and police all over the country.
In a national survey, the Pew Research Center found that four percent of cell phone-owning children between 12 and 17 years old said they had sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of themselves to someone else via text messaging, according to the research center’s Web site.
Fifteen percent of that group said they had received those kinds of images of someone they knew through their phones, according to Pew.
In Beeville, three high school girls were accused about a month ago of taking nude photographs of themselves with their cell phones and sending them to their boyfriends, according to the Beeville Bee-Picayune.
Authorities said the boyfriends apparently showed the messages to others at school, the newspaper reported.
BMS Principal Gina McKeever said she knows of no sexting incidents taking place on school grounds here. Is it going on among youngsters elsewhere in Port Aransas?
“From what parents are saying to me, yes,” McKeever said.
“But, as to what degree of sexting? That’s the thing,” the principal said. “I haven’t heard of graphic ones, but what might be acceptable in one house might not be in another house.”
McKeever said she brought in Mitchell and Burroughs to talk to parents to let them know the potential ramifications of sexting.
Mitchell said children have the technology to engage in sexting, but they tend not to think ahead of the potential consequences.
“They don’t think past the moment of sending a photo to their boyfriend or girlfriend, but the reality is, they’re being slapped with some pretty serious consequences,” Mitchell said.
A sexually explicit photo of anyone under 18 years of age could be deemed child pornography, she said. A person with that kind of image on their cell phone or computer can be prosecuted for possession or distribution of child pornography – a second-degree felony, she said.
Legally, Mitchell said, it doesn’t matter if the person possessing the photo is the same age as the person in the photo.
Depending on the age of the person in a photo and how the image is used, the person who shot the photo could be charged with a felony even if the photographer is a juvenile, according to Burroughs, the police chief.
Mitchell has spoken to classrooms full of students at five to 10 schools, most of them middle schools, around the Coastal Bend. She said she doesn’t ask students if they personally have engaged in sexting.
“I say, ‘How many of you know someone who has sexted?’ And at least three quarters raise their hands,” Mitchell said.
She said she advises students to think before acting. There are legal consequences, and there are other ramifications that might hit home just as much with kids.
“If this gets out to the whole school, it could ruin your life as a kid,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said she advises students to be cautious about their interactions.
“If kids are in relationships where their boyfriend or girlfriend is pressuring them to send these kinds of messages, obviously, that is not a healthy relationship,” she said.
Mitchell said she advises parents to talk to their children about what is and is not a healthy relationship. She also advises parents to keep themselves aware of what their children are doing with their electronic gear.
Many cell phones and computer e-mail accounts used by children are registered in parents’ names, so it’s the parents who could face legal problems if their children are sexting, Mitchell said.
If a parent or school employee sees a photo of a naked person under the age of 18 on a cell phone, that adult would be required to report it to police, McKeever said. Someone then could face charges for possessing child pornography.
Asked whether sexting has been seen at PAHS, Longanecker said, “in my four years here, we may have had two incidents where we had something resembling it.” The incidents involved “inappropriate language,” he said.
“We haven’t had any pornographic situations at the high school that I know of,” Longanecker said.
He added, “Just because we don’t know about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.”
Students could face a wide range of consequences in school, depending on what kind of inappropriate electronic communications take place, Longanecker said.
“Obviously, if a student had pornographic material on a phone, that could be grounds for expulsion,” he said.