Esparto parents informed about sexting

Every seventh-grader at a Yolo County middle school raised their hands when asked if they knew what sexting meant.

The question was asked before a presentation from the UC Davis Family Protection and Legal Assistance Clinic regarding the explicit text messages.

The presentation initially was geared toward high school students but Alex Ayoub, a third-year UCD Law School student working at the clinic, realized it was important for middle school students as well.

The clinic holds presentations on sexting, cyberbullying and sextortion at local schools but also at Yolo County libraries so parents and school employees can understand what these terms mean and the potential legal actions minors can face.

About 15 people at Esparto Regional Library Wednesday evening were surprised to hear the number of middle school students who know about sexting.

“Sexting in particular has dire consequences if it goes too far,” said Katy Zils, a third-year UCD law student.

Sexting involves sending, receiving or forwarding sexually suggestive or explicit messages or photos through text message, the Internet or other electronic media.

Students might face child pornography charges and have to register as a sex offender for possessing or distributing explicit photos, even if they didn’t take them. But some states have changed their laws to make it a lesser offense.

“The law has not yet been able to catch up with what’s happening,” Ayoub said.

If the photo spreads

among students, the student whose photo has been leaked could face bullying and sexual harassment.

“It can go on and on in hallways and there’s no way to stop it,” Zils said.

She said some young women have committed suicide after sexually explicit or nude photos were leaked.

Zils said while teenage girls face more pressure to send sexual photos via text, girls and boys equally send them. She said 20 percent of teens have sent nude photos.

Sexting can be considered a form of cyberbullying, Ayoub said. Around 50 percent of people ages 14 to 24 have experienced digitally abusive behavior, which can include harassment and threats through social networking, email, text messages or other electronic media.

Students tend to cyberbully others on social networking websites, such as Facebook. Students might pose as other students by creating fake profiles, stealing a person’s password or hacking into profiles and writing fake status updates.

“Facebook is … used and abused in ways people didn’t anticipate,” Ayoub said.

School officials can suspend or expel someone who has been caught cyberbullying, even if the offense did not take place on campus. Zils said victims might be threatened by a text message so they don’t come to school and it affects overall school attendance.

Sexual text messages can also lead to a newer concept called sextortion, a form of sexual exploitation. A person can take a sexually explicit image or video to threaten or coerce another person, often as a form of blackmail.

For example, Ayoub said people can use a sexually explicit image to stop a girlfriend or boyfriend from breaking up with them.

“I can see it really getting kind of nasty,” she said.

In regards to sexting, cyberbullying and sextortion, Ayoub and Zils told parents should encourage a dialogue among their children to prevent or stop these behaviors from happening.

Students can also contact a trusted adult or call crisis lines at the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center or the UC Davis Family Protection and Legal Assistance Clinic.

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