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New tools ready to fight ‘sexting’

Efforts to stop teens and tweens from sharing nude or sexually explicit images using their smartphones are taking new forms and new urgency these days.

“Sexting,” the term used for sending, uploading, receiving or forwarding sexually suggestive photos, videos or text messages, appears to be on the rise nationally and in the Fredericksburg area.

According to the National Child Safety Council, 1 in 5 young people have admitted to sexting.

Area police say that most young people don’t seem to realize that once that image is sent, it’s out there forever for anyone to see.

Authorities in Louisa County, who have been investigating a sexting ring involving high school students in six localities, hope that a new smartphone app will give young people an edgy, but humorous way to “just say no” when it comes to sexting.

The app—called “Send This Instead”—was launched in July. It gives users an alternative to saying no when asked or pressured into sending a naughty photo.

The free app contains digital posters of humorous and sarcastic retorts that users can send instead.

Combined with entertaining graphics, funny and pointed messages include: “Sorry, just in the middle of something … Can I reject you later?” and “Save the bandwidth Download a life,” among many others.

“Until now, anti-sexting campaigns have focused on warning kids about the dangers of sending explicit pictures of themselves, but it isn’t working—we need a new strategy,” said Scott Naylor, manager of the Child Sexual Exploitation Unit of the Ontario Provincial Police, which created the app.

They took the idea to comedians, graphic artists and musicians who understand the pressures of sexting and had them come up with witty responses.

Other examples of responses include, “That would violate both my data and dating plans. Neither of which include you,” or “Sorry no camera. But I drew it instead.”

Another response: “No, but keep taking the selfies. The cops will appreciate you making your own mugshot.”

The app also offers advice in a section called “Life Bytes,” which educates young people on ways to deal with the issues surrounding sexting.

In addition, it has links to sites that offer help to get nude photos off the Internet and how to report pages or people who request nude photos.

Louisa Commonwealth’s Attorney Rusty McGuire led a presentation last week on the dangers of sexting and what parents can do to get the message across.

He noted the obvious consequences, such as facing criminal charges and a bad mark to one’s reputation, but he also hit on the more serious points.

“It can lead to anxiety, isolation, embarrassment, depression,” he said. “Children have killed themselves over this stuff.”

He also said that teens have to realize that they may not always be talking to other teens when they communicate on social media sites.

He cited three recent cases in Louisa County where older men, one a former minister, had posed as teenagers in an attempt to get teens to send nude pictures or meet up for sex.

“When I was growing up, the bad guy was a man in the beat-up white van,” McGuire said. “Now, the bad man in the beat up van is on the other side of that computer.”

Two cases since April in the Fredericksburg region have brought the issue sexting to light.

In the Louisa case, hundreds of high schoolers in Louisa and surrounding counties were caught up in a sexting case in which nude and seminude photos and videos of girls were posted to an Instagram account that was shared by a ring of teens.

More than 1,000 images and videos were shared and police seized about 25 cellphones from students in Louisa, Fluvanna, Orange, Goochland, Albemarle and Hanover counties.

Another case involved students at a Stafford County middle school. In that case, nude photos were passed around on smartphones, many of which were confiscated by investigators.

No criminal charges have been filed in either case, but the investigations are ongoing. Some of the students involved in the Stafford incidents were suspended.

Students in the Louisa case had to turn over their phones to be cleaned in addition to a stern warning from police about the possible penalties that come with sexting.

Louisa County school resource officer Rob Sarnowski said he hopes the students in that case got a wake-up call.

“But it’s a message that has to be repeated on a regular basis at church, at school, by police and especially by mom and dad,” he said.

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419

Here are points to talk about with your teen:

  • Never take, send or post, sexually suggestive content including nude or semi-nude photos of yourself or others.
  • Think about the message you are sending if you consider sexting. You could be creating a reputation for yourself that you cannot escape.
  • Consider the victims. Many suffer humiliation, depression and some even attempt suicide.
  • Do not allow anyone to pressure you into sexting.
  • Report any sexting you receive to a trusted adult.
  • Do not delete the message.
  • Make it stop. If you have asked someone to stop sending you sexually explicit photos or material, block their number from your cellphone or report them to your Internet service provider.

—The National Child Safety Council


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