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Sexting and teens


Photo Illustration by Rachel Jessen/The Daily Iowan
A couple lie next to one another on Monday. According to a 2009 survey, 39 percent of American teens admitted to sending or posting sexually suggestive messages.
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Kim Lamon-Loperfido wants to see local parents talk to their kids about sexting, or sexual text messaging.

“I think a lot of parents or teens don’t know the potential harm that comes legally or emotionally,” said Lamon-Loperfido, a teen-health educator for the United Action for Youth.

So Lamon-Loperfido and other officials at the teen center, along with Planned Parenthood, brought parents and young teens together in a forum on the issue Monday night.

The forum, called “Youth Action Sexting, Technology, OH MY Talking With Teens in Tough Times,” was held as part of adolescent pregnancy-prevention month and covered such topics as cyber-bullying, online safety, harassment, and etiquette.

Nationwide, sexting has become more prevalent as cell-phone use rises.

A Pew Research Study published in December 2009 found 4 percent of cell-owning teens aged 12 to 17 said they have sent sexually suggestive, nearly nude, or nude images or videos of themselves.

Around 15 percent said they have received such images of someone they know via text message.

Though some schools in the Iowa City School District have sent home literature to educate parents on the issue, the district doesn’t have any policies that specifically address sexting. Instead, sexting is covered under policies that address harassment and bullying. School Board member Toni Cilek said the board has no plans to address the issue.

Some school officials have had to deal with the problem, though.

In one incident at Northwest Junior High, 1507 Eighth St., Coralville, sexually explicit pictures were distributed among students, though not during school hours.

Principal Gregg Shoultz said it was treated as a sexual-harassment situation and was resolved through counseling rather than punishment. He believes the federal and state laws defining sexting as only pornography has not yet caught up to the advances of technology, he said.

“I think there needs to be a lot more sophistication,” he said. “We need to teach kids responsible behavior.”

Michael Ferjak, an investigator for the Iowa Department of Justice, agreed.

He said there should be a new policy regarding the phenomenon, as well as other issues brought about by new technology, including online predators and cyber-bullying.

“Technology law in general is a bit behind the times,” Ferjak said.

Currently, sexting can lead to punishments as severe as a child-pornography charge or people ending up on the sexual-offender registry — something Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, sought to change earlier this year.

She proposed a bill — which didn’t make it out of committee — in the Legislature that would have excused those ages 14-18 if both the sender and recipient were willing participants and the person receiving the image didn’t pass it on.

“Obviously, individuals who make that kind of decision to share very private pictures with each other are not making good choices, but I don’t think it should result in them being on the sexual-abuse registry for 10 years,” Mascher said.

For Deb McCarthy, Monday’s sexting forum was a change to pick up some educational materials.
A mother of three, she said she hoped to learn a bit more about sexting — and sharing it with teens.

“Accurate information for our young people is their lifeboat,” she said.

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