by George Bao
LOS ANGELES, March 18 (Xinhua) -- The word "sexting" can not be found from Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, but it is estimated that about one out of five teenagers in the United States have done this over their cell phones. Sexting has become another epidemic spreading at U.S. schools which worried parents and educators.
A 14-year-old girl at McAuliffe Middle School in Orange County, California took nude photos of herself and sent them to at least one friend. A group of students using photo messaging circulated the girl's photos. Los Alamitos Unified School district superintendent Gregory Franklin put those students involved, less than 10 altogether, to in-house suspensions on March 17, it was reported. It is not known whether those students would be put on criminal charges.
In other places, there have been cases where prosecutors bring criminal charges against those students involved in sexting.
A 15-year-old girl in Warren County, Ohio admitted in a juvenile court on March 12 that she sent a nude photo of herself last month via a text message on her cell phone to another minor.
The girl entered a plea of admission to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a charge that would be considered a misdemeanor.
The girl's nude photo was discovered on Feb. 25 on a cell phone the school confiscated from a boy in a high school classroom since students are prohibited from using electronic communication devices at school.
A school administrator accidentally found a nude photo from the boy's phone of that girl and turned the phone to the police. Later the school administrator discovered another 15-year-old girl's nude photo in the boy's own cell phone. The boy has also been charged and will be arraigned in a juvenile court.
Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel said cases of "sexting" -- where people send sexually explicit images via electronic communication -- are much more prevalent now compared to several years ago.
A conservative study shows one out of five teenagers in the United States have sexted someone, while a survey released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy shows that about 39 percent of all teens said they had posted sexually suggestive messages to others, and 48 percent said they had received such messages. Among young adults, 59 percent said they had sent or posted sexually suggestive messages over their cell phones.
The issue referred to as "sexting" alarms parents and troubles educators and law enforcement officers. The nude photos could appear on the Internet and could have a long-term impact on the teens' future.
States have different ways to handle sexting cases. Some schools, like McAuliffe Middle School in Orange County, just put violators on in-house suspensions, while others have brought criminal charges against them.
Police detective Vern Myers in Colorado said that "on something like that it's child pornography. If you take that picture, you're manufacturing it; if you send that picture, then you're distributing it." But different law enforcement agencies have different policies toward sexting.
Sexting started a few years ago when teenagers sent text messages on answers to test questions over their cell phones. Thenit expanded to taking pictures of each others' body parts and texting them around. Teenage girls take their own nude photos and send them to their boy friends, while boys exchange their nude photos with others or forward their girl friends' photos to their friends.
Some teenage girls tried to impress their boy friends with their own nude photos, while some teenagers said they felt very high to see those photos.
Educators in many states have started some programs to address the issue. Some schools have formed task forces to deal with sexting. Other educators have hosted workshops for parents to discuss the issue.
Educators held that many parents were rather naive about what their children were doing with their electronics such as cell phones. Also, it is difficult for parents to monitor their children every moment. Some children would ask their parents to respect their privacy not to check what they were sending and receiving with their cell phones. Parents would be hard to distinguish how much was guiding and how much was spying on their children.
There is no consistent policy at U.S. schools in dealing with cell phones. Some schools require that cell phones should be turned off during school days, but some schools have different requirement.
Many parents and educators now think there is a need for schools to follow a consistent cell phone policy.