Sexting among Teens in Arizona

Sexting: It is the rage for many teens, much to the shock of their parents. Trading sexually explicit photos of themselves and others via cell phone is one of the most alarming developments among teens that Chris Bonn, assistant principal at Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, has seen in the three years he has worked there. More recently, the practice has gone from boys and girls in relationships, swapping nude photos, to something more disturbing.

“Kids are collecting these pictures like baseball cards,” Bonn told the Arizona Daily Star. They don’t seem to see any potentially bad outcomes to their actions, he points out. “We get a wide variety of responses from students who are both sending and receiving these messages. The most common is that of, ‘What’s the big deal?'”

The potential problem is that under many laws, including those in Arizona, transmitting naked pictures of teens can be a felony. They could be charged with possession of child pornography, as well as sexual exploitation of a minor, both of which would require offenders to register as sex offenders, often for life.

Because of this, municipalities have often charged teens with lesser crimes, including “using a telephone to annoy, threaten or intimidate” or “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” according to County Attorney Barbara LaWall of Pima County, Ariz. Since last fall, LaWall’s office has prosecuted on average almost one sexting case per week.

Beyond a legal standpoint, unwilling participants may face anguish and shame when they discover that private photos have been made public. Recently, an 18-year-old Cincinnati girl hanged herself after a picture she had originally sent to her boyfriend was forwarded to kids from at least seven area high schools.

Although many teens view sexting as no big deal, there are ramifications – not just for right now, but also for life after high school. As Bonn puts it, “These are kids making bad choices. They’re not bad kids.”