December 6, 2013

York County leaders aim to stop 'sexting' among teens

Finding a teenager without a cell phone practically glued to their hands is a rarity these days. And with that new technology comes a problem, one that law enforcement agencies and schools in York County are hoping to get ahead of, and fast.

That problem is sexting.

Sexting, shorthand for “sex texting,” is the use of “electronic devices to send inappropriate messages and photographs of themselves and about themselves to people,” said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett. He and school officials from Rock Hill and Fort Mill adressed the topic at a news conference Thursday at the Rock Hill school district office.

Coincidentally, the news conference was held one day after the arrest of Fort Mill High School senior Brandon Mayer, who is charged with sexual exploitation of a minor after sharing nude pictures and videos of another student at school.

“This is not a problem that is unique to York County or unique to South Carolina,” Brackett said.

In the last few months, he said, his office has gone from seeing no cases involving teen sexting to seeing “several.” Mayer’s case at Fort Mill is not unique, he said. Investigations into incidents like this are ongoing and more arrests will be made, he said.

When children take inappropriate pictures of themselves and send them, they’re not thinking of the consequences, said Maj. Bryan Zachary of the Fort Mill Police Department.

“This is not just a harmless prank,” he said.

Brackett said there have been far too many cases where sexting has led to cyberbullying and suicide among victims.

“These things are going to live with them for a long time,” said Chip Payne, commander of South Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children task force. “The record of what they do sticks around.”

School officials said they were revamping their efforts to educate students and parents about the dangers of sexting. Groups of students from the Rock Hill and Fort Mill school districts made public service announcements. Letters or emails were being sent out, and students were going to see additional lessons about the topic in school, they said.

Zachary, Brackett, Payne and school officials said that the person most responsible for educating about sexting besides the student is the parent.

“You have a responsibility to know what your child is doing,” Brackett said. “They’re not smart enough to make decisions for themselves.”

A 2013 survey by the FBI showed that 8 percent of middle and high school students had sent inappropriate pictures of themselves to others and 13 percent had received pictures from classmates.

Young people often don’t realize that what they’re doing can not only harm their reputation, but is illegal and subject to serious charges, because the inappropriate images often are classified as child pornography.

“These are serious charges,” said Zachary. “In extreme cases, it can result in the person being registered as a sex offender.”

But Payne said he hopes it never has to get that far and education about sexting can lead to a change in culture.

“Sending pictures doesn’t make you cool,” he said.

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