September 2, 2009

District Attorneys Warn Students about the Dangers of “Sexting”

 With the start of the new school year, district attorneys across Pennsylvania are reaching out to high school students and their families to warn them about the dangers and consequences of “sexting.”

“District attorneys are bound by the law as it is currently written,” said Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira who helped develop the program after seeing a need to educate young people in his community.  “Most district attorneys would rather see teens and their parents realize the severe moral and social costs of their actions before they commit an act that will have long-term legal consequences.”

Sexting” commonly refers to the sending of photos showing nudity or sex acts, often via cell phone.  If those photos involve children or underage teens, then sending them could be considered a felony in Pennsylvania.  The conviction of anyone, including juveniles, for this offense will show on their criminal history records and may result in being required to register as a sexual offender.

“Sexting isn’t an easy subject to talk about it, but kids need to know that taking these kinds of pictures and sending them over their cell phones and internet has very real consequences,” said Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz who has also been proactive in his community on the issue.

“Let’s Talk about Sexing” is a program developed by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association in cooperation with local district attorneys in response to growing national trends.  According to a survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, one in five teenage girls (22%) and almost one in five teenage boys (18%) have electronically sent, or posted on-line, nude or semi-nude images of themselves.  Last spring, a sexting incident in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania brought to light the challenges presented by the issue after 20 middle and high school students were found to have taken and sent racy cell phone photos of teenage girls.

“Unless we see a change in the law, community-based cooperation, education and outreach are our best avenues to help teenagers avoid serious legal consequences,” said PDAA President and Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico, Jr.  “Until we are able to come up with workable, common sense legislative alternatives to the current criminal statutes, I encourage communities, high schools and parents to work with their local district attorneys to help our children understand this issue and the ramifications of their actions.”

In addition to its community outreach efforts, the PDAA and its members are actively working on a legislative solution to appropriately address sexting by minors.

Communities and high school administrators interested in organizing a sexting presentation should contact their local district attorney or the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association at (717) 238-5416 or pdaa@pdaa.org.