NBC33 Special Report: Sexting

POSTED: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 - 9:00pm

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:57pm

We’re talking about a high-tech version of flirting, teens texting explicit messages or photos to each other. It’s sometimes called sexting and according to a recent study, one in five teens have done it. The problem is, there can be huge consequences once they hit that send button.

For the three Petite brothers, texting is a part of daily communication. Kahn Petite says, “Everything revolve around texting, my day, my friends’ days.” Ace Petite says, “Mostly all my friends have phones.” Reed Petite says, “We definitely make plans for the weekend and all that, we talk to girls.”

Even flirting ahs gone hi-tech. Lately a new trend called “sexting” has made headlines. That’s when students text explicit messages or nude photos. 17-year-old Kahn Petite says he’s seen plenty of it at his school. “They send pictures, talk about sexual relations, talk about who does what with who.”

Seemingly innocent gossip or photos that experts say can get out of hand. Dr. Donald Hoppe, a Clinical Psychologist, says, “It feels a lot safer than it is, kids are in their own house, in their own bedroom, where they think nothing can happen to them. As a result, there’s a casualness that develops about that that can lead to disclosing information way beyond what’s appropriate.”

Stars like Miley Cirus, Vanessa Hudgens, and Cheeta Girl Adrienne Bailon have all had compromising pictures of themselves surface and get passed around online, and in many cases, via cell phone.

Cynthia Logan, mother of Jesse Logan, explains, “She snapped, it was just too much for an 18-year-old to go through.” Then sometimes it goes to another level. Ohio High School student Jesse Logan sent a nude picture of herself to a boyfriend. When they broke up, it got passed to hundreds of teens at Logan’s school. “She was being attacked and tortured actually, things were being thrown at her.” A year later, Logan committed suicide.

Corey Bourgeois works with the Attorney General’s high-tech crime unit. Their focus is to nab those involved in child pornography, but now there’s a new front. “Cell phones are a new trend, cell phones are more like computers these days.” The office has a stack of cases, all involving phones. Bourgeois says what teens don’t know, those seemingly innocent pictures often end up online and from there, it’s a fast track to a predator’s computer. “As soon as you post it, it is stored on a server and somebody has inevitably right clicked and saved it to their hard drive and it’s just a chain reaction.”

Predators take those pictures and trade them amongst each other or sell them to the highest bidder. Then there’s other consequences for the teens themselves. Brice Dixon is facing charges, “I made a mistake, a very small mistake, turns out to be a very big charge.” 18-year-old Brice Dixon is in jail on child pornography charges. He texted nude pictures of an ex-girlfriend.

Students in several states have also faced charges. Authorities say it could happen here. “What kids don’t realize is they’re distributing child pornography because they’re under the age of 18. It is a wakeup call for parents. Tracy Petite says, “It’s not something we’ve talked about in the past, but I guarantee it’s going to be something we will talk about in the future.”

Teens and technology is coming together in a risky mix. Everyone we spoke with says there’s only one way to keep your teens safe. Talk to them about texting and set limits and expectations when it comes to technology and don’t be afraid to check into phone or internet records to get a more in depth look at your kid’s behavior.

Experts say there’s really no such thing as “safe sexting.” Once the image is out in cyberspace, there’s no way to completely eliminate it. It will remain somewhere in a remote server.