/PRNewswire/ -- Two years ago, the word "sexting" did not even exist in the English language. Today it is a term that is much discussed and debated by parents, students, educators, law enforcement leaders and policy makers across America. It is widely misunderstood.
"Sexting" refers to youth sending sexually explicit messages or sexually explicit photos of themselves or others to their peers. Today, many teens are using cell phones, computers, web cams, digital cameras, and/or certain video game systems to take and distribute sexually explicit photographs of themselves or others.
Is "sexting" merely an example of "kids being kids," or is it a more serious societal concern that in some cases requires criminal sanctions? In an effort to provide a better framework for policy discussion and to better inform the public, today the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is releasing a policy statement on "sexting." This statement is a product of extensive dialogue with leaders in the field, and was developed with the strong involvement of the American Bar Association's Center on Children and the Law.
"There has been much concern that teens engaged in 'sexting' would be criminally prosecuted and required to register as sex offenders," said Ernie Allen, President of NCMEC. "That isn't happening. Yet, 'sexting' is a large problem that we have to come to grips with as a nation. Some of these incidents are minor. Some are very serious. Through this new policy statement on 'sexting,' we hope to provide greater understanding and perspective as we strive to cope more effectively with this difficult new phenomenon."
"Sexting" is a complex issue that covers a wide range of severity. NCMEC believes that the primary response to "sexting" must be positive, empowering educational messages directed to parents and teens. Parents must become more involved in their children's lives, be more aware of what they are doing, and set limits. Teens must become better informed about the implications and repercussions of their acts.
Two years ago, before the word "sexting" was invented, NCMEC launched a public service advertising campaign in partnership with the Ad Council. The message was "Think Before You Post." The campaign sought to alert teens to the risks associated with "sexting" and other online communications. Once the images are out there, you can't get them back. They can affect a teen's future, impact his or her ability to be admitted to college, be hired for jobs, and much more.
Yet, NCMEC also believes that in some instances, "sexting" entails serious criminal acts requiring investigation by law enforcement and action by authorities. The vast majority of these cases should be handled through the juvenile justice system with its rehabilitative ideal. But in some instances, more severe sanctions may be necessary.
A survey conducted for NCMEC by Cox Communications and released in June 2009 found that 19% of teens surveyed had sent, received, or forwarded sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos through text message or e-mail. Of the teens surveyed who had engaged in "sexting," 60% sent the photos to a boyfriend/girlfriend and 11% sent them to someone they did not know.
NCMEC knows about "sexting" firsthand. NCMEC's Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed and analyzed 27 million child pornography images and videos since 2003, 9 million in the past year alone. Of the children successfully identified and rescued, 10% of the images were self-produced. Another 14% were produced as a result of online enticement by another party who persuaded or extorted youth into taking and sending explicit photos.
A copy of the new Policy Statement on Sexting issued by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children can be found on the organization's Web site www.missingkids.com.
Additional resources for parents include: Safety tips for cell phone use can be found at www.NetSmartz411.org. Parents can locate an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in their area at www.icactraining.org. Suspected child sexual exploitation can be reported at www.cybertipline.com.
This year the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children observes its 25th anniversary. NCMEC has played a role in the recovery of more than 142,000 children. Today more children come home safely than any other year in the organization's 25-year history, raising the recovery rate from 62% in 1990 to 97% today. And more of those who prey on children are identified and prosecuted. Yet too many children are still missing and too many are still the victims of sexual exploitation. There is much more that needs to be done.
About the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Since it was established by Congress in 1984, the organization has operated the toll-free 24-hour national missing children's hotline which has handled nearly 2,400,000 calls. It has assisted law enforcement in the recovery of more than 142,000 children. The organization's CyberTipline has handled more than 731,000 reports of child sexual exploitation and its Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed and analyzed more than 26,847,700 child pornography images and videos. The organization works in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. To learn more about NCMEC, call its toll-free hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST or visit its Web site at www.missingkids.com.
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