Educators help raise awareness about ‘sexting’ |

Educators help raise awareness about ‘sexting’

School holds presentation about dangers of sending explicit texts

Jack Weinstein

Steamboat Springs High School freshman Sam Samlowski puts a towel over freshman Nikki Vande Velde's head during a domestic violence awareness exercise Wednesday at the school. Advocates Building Peaceful Communities peer educators gave a presentation about teen dating violence, and later about sexting.
Matt Stensland

Who to contact

■ Advocates Building Peaceful Communities: 879-2034

■ Safe2Tell anonymous tip line: 877-542-7233

— If you don't want your dad to see what you're texting, don't send it.

That's the message Steamboat Springs High School sophomore Amy Brodie delivered to a class of freshmen Wednesday.

Brodie and three other Advocates Building Peaceful Communities peer educators were giving a presentation about the dangers — both psychological and criminal — of "sexting."

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Sexting is the sending or forwarding of nude, sexually suggestive or explicit pictures via cell phone, Advocates Executive Director Diane Moore said. Moore said sexting also includes sending sexually explicit text messages or sending pictures online. Advocates is a Steamboat-based organization that provides services to victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse in Routt County.

Advocates also provides education for local students. The sexting presentations started two weeks ago, and Moore said she hopes all high school students in the county will hear them.

According to the Pew Res­earch Center, a December 2008 study, "Sex and Tech" by the The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, revealed that 19 percent of 13- to 19-year-olds surveyed had sent a sexually suggestive picture of themselves via cell phone, e-mail or another means. Of the teens surveyed, 31 percent said they had received a sexually suggestive photo.

It's an issue that's becoming more prevalent locally, Moore said. She has dealt with about five instances of sexting in the past year. That includes nude pictures, and in one case, an incident with the middle-school-age group, Moore said.

Sexting usually starts innocently, with someone taking a suggestive picture and sending it to another person they trust, Moore said. But oftentimes, she said, those pictures get forwarded to people they weren't intended for or even end up on the Internet.

"The damage can be a young person demoralized or humiliated," said Susan Payne, executive director of Colorado Springs-based Safe2Tell and a special agent with the Colorado Department of Public Safety. "We've seen suicides as a result of sexting."

The digital age

Payne said as more young people get cell phones, the instances of sexting increase. The first she can recall occurred about two years ago in Douglas County when a young girl sent a topless photo of herself to some classmates.

Safe2Tell, an anonymous tip line for children or adults to report safety concerns statewide, is trying to reach out to students in Colorado about the consequences of sexting.

Sexting made national headlines Feb. 4 when seven students at Skyview Middle School in Colorado Springs were suspended for distributing a nude photo of a 12-year-old girl, according to news reports.

Payne said sexting is one of the emerging issues with technology among students. She said they grew up with technology and have access to it 24 hours a day.

"This generation, their native language is all digital," she said. "They're more comfortable communicating via text or Facebook than face to face. They're more comfortable flirting via text."

That's why it's so important to start providing education to students as early as middle school, Payne said.

Moore said the Advocates peer educators would start entering seventh-grade classrooms when they visit Hayden Middle School on Feb. 22. Steamboat and the South Routt middle schools will follow. She said they're starting early in the hopes that students will know how to deal with issues that may affect them by the time they reach high school.

Legal issues

In addition to the possible emotional or psychological effects of sexting, there's a significant legal issue.

According to the Colorado Revised Statutes, sexting is considered sexual exploitation of a child, a Class 3 felony for a juvenile. If convicted, a person could receive a prison sentence and be required to register as a sex offender. Payne and Moore said students who receive pictures should delete them immediately. Even showing a picture to another person could be considered distribution of child pornography.

At 7 p.m. today, MTV News plans to air "Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public." It tells the story of 20-year-old Phillip Alpert, who when he was 18, sent a nude picture of his 16-year-old girlfriend to friends. He was charged in Florida with distributing child pornography, convicted and forced to register as a sex offender.

In Colorado Springs, El Paso County District Attorney Dan May has said the case involving the students from Skyview Middle School warrants counseling, not criminal charges, The Associated Press reported.

Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said determining whether to pursue criminal charges depends on whether a sexting incident involves a juvenile sending a nude picture to friends or whether it is legitimate child pornography.

"I think you have to handle that on a case-by-case basis," he said. "It depends on the circumstances whether to pursue criminal charges or counseling."

But Rae said in the past couple of years, he's seen text messages that have left him thinking, "You've got to be kidding me."

Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said her office has dealt with a couple of cases of sexting, in Grand and Moffat counties but not in Routt. She said in those cases, it was determined not to file criminal charges.

Like Rae, Oldham said her office evaluates sexting on a case-by-case basis.

"We are not minimizing it in any way, although we don't charge in every case," she said.

Education efforts

The Advocates peer educators briefed the group of freshmen Wednesday about the criminal and psychological consequences of sexting.

Part of their presentation included playing a news story that aired on the Today Show in March 2009. It was about Ohio 18-year-old Jesse Logan, who committed suicide after nude pictures she sent to her boyfriend were distributed to other students at her high school.

Moore said the peer educators program began more than 10 years ago. Interested students are given about 15 hours of training. There are 22 peer educators in the program.

The program was designed because "kids are going to hear their peers much more clearly and with credibility," Moore said.

All four peer educators who spoke to freshmen Wednesday said they were familiar with sexting incidents in the high school.

Junior Olivia Lange said they provide an outlet for students who know and trust them and can talk to them about anything. She said that relationship also helps them get the message about sexting across, as opposed to if it were coming from adults.

"I really think it's important, not just for high school students but the community to know about," she said. "This issue, what's going on, it's important, and not many people know about it."

Who to contact

■ Advocates Building Peaceful Communities: 879-2034

■ Safe2Tell anonymous tip line: 877-542-7233