OMG, teens R "sexting"

High school students are being punished for exchanging X-rated cellphone photos.

Published November 25, 2008 11:00AM (EST)

Remember the 15-year-old Ohio girl who faced child pornography charges for distributing naked cellphone photos of herself? There comes news that the charges were dropped, and the case will be dismissed if she completes a diversion program. But, most interesting of all, she revealed a typically teenage oh-by-the-way revelation during the hearing: Three of the male students who received her digital offerings also sent her back X-rated snapshots of themselves; now they might face charges, too.

That's not all in the way of teens being punished for "sexting," as it is now being called. Two teenage girls in Seattle were suspended from their cheerleading team after school officials discovered that they had taken nude cellphone photos of themselves that were circulated among students. One girl sent a topless photo to her then-boyfriend, which was "accidentally" leaked to other students; the other had a female friend take a nude snapshot, which also mysteriously ended up in other students' hands.

Now the girls' parents are suing the school, accusing "administrators of violating the girls' due process rights, needlessly sharing the photos with other school staff members and failing to promptly report the matter to police as possible child pornography," reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The school did not punish the students -- including a reportedly large number of football players -- who were in possession of the photos.

And there's more: Two 14-year-old girls in Livingston County, Mich., recently circulated nude cellphone pictures. In one case, the photo was sent to "as many as 200 people," according to the Detroit News. Nineteen students were suspended and roughly a dozen cellphones were confiscated by police. The other case is still being investigated.

There's a tendency to look at cases like these and dismissively conclude: Oh, well, those girls are damaged. That may be the case, sometimes -- but we certainly don't make the same assumption about a teenage boy who shares nude photos of himself. Not to mention, cases where the photos are discovered by school officials might be relatively uncommon, but I suspect that the practice of "sexting" is anything but.

It's hard to understand being very surprised at a girl taking a sexualized self-portrait, or even that she might want to share it with a boyfriend, or friends. Typically, this is not at all a safe or smart idea -- the Seattle cheerleaders being a case in point -- but we are talking about hormonally driven teenagers, after all. If we are shocked by this behavior, I think we're lying to ourselves about girls' sexuality -- especially those of us who were once teenage girls.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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