To many teens and young adults, sending nude photos through text messaging has become an accepted practice, but the growing phenomenon of “sexting,” should it occur within the university, would be a potential violation of the university code of conduct, a university official said.
Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said sexting is a question of judgment and could represent an offense of infliction of emotional harm, a violation of the Code of Student Conduct. There have not been any known incidents on campus or with potential students, but should one occur, the administration would be understanding, yet not complacent, Mills said.
“We don’t believe that everyone is error-free,” Mills said. “We would want to put it into context; we would want to talk to the student.”
Recent incidents have taken sexting to a more serious level.
According to a New York Times article, in March, a Pennsylvania district attorney told two students that he was considering filing a charge of sexual abuse of a minor against them after investigators found a semi-nude picture of the students on someone else’s cell phone, unless they participated in a 10-hour class dealing with pornography and sexual violence. If convicted, the students could serve time in prison and would likely have to register as sex offenders, according to the article.
Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry was unavailable for comment.
James Riddlesperger, a political science professor, said sexting creates a gray area. In the case of juveniles, the ideal solution is to not let public authorities get involved, he said.
“We can reach all kinds of conclusions about how stupid it is, but it would be more difficult to reach a conclusion about how harmful it is,” Riddlesperger said.
Still, there is a lot of room for potential danger. It’s one thing for a young woman to send a picture of herself nude to her boyfriend, Riddlesperger said. It’s another thing for her boyfriend to distribute that photo widely.
“That’s where it becomes a slippery slope,” he said.
In juvenile court, many issues can be handled relatively informally, with prosecutors and parents talking, Riddlesperger said. Should it get into the court system, once juveniles serve their punishment, their records are erased. Those laws were made intentionally, Riddlesperger said.
“We all recognize that juveniles do stupid things,” he said.
The solution for problems of juveniles is for them to become adults, not necessarily to give them a punishment that will affect them for the rest of their lives, he said.
But it’s a different story once issues such as sexting hit adult courts. Cases of sexual harassment and disseminating pornography on cell phones can result in long-lasting consequences, Riddlesperger said.
“Once you reach adulthood, you are who you are, not who you’re becoming,” he said.
According to a nationwide survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens admit to participating in sexting.
Shayna Fawcett, a sophomore radio-TV-film major, said sexting occurred at her high school. Pictures that one student sent during her freshman year resurfaced her senior year when some classmates got a hold of the pictures and sent them to the her parents, the principal of the school and to several colleges she applied to, Fawcett said. While no legal action was taken, the school suggested that the girl quit the cheerleading squad, and it affected her when she rushed a sorority in college, Fawcett said.
As in this case, Mills said that once the photos are out there, they are out there forever.
“Every telephone is now a camera,” Mills said. “Who knows when those pictures will come back to haunt you.”