Parents warned about dangers of 'sexting'

October 06, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

o Most Franklin Co. schools have not had sexting issues

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Chambersburg Borough Police and school officials facing a rash of "sexting" incidents called a news conference Tuesday to share information about how parents can protect their children's welfare.

First, parents should look at their children's computers and cell phones in search of sexually explicit images. If found, they should be reported to police, officials said.

When conducting an investigation and filing charges, the Franklin County District Attorney's Office will be more inclined to cooperate with students and families who are forthcoming about sexting, Assistant District Attorney Bret Beynon said.


"We will be much more willing to work with people who come forward to us now and are able to provide helpful information," Beynon said.

On Sept. 23, Chambersburg Area Senior High School teachers and administrators began hearing about nude images being sent via cell phones and e-mail. Some of those images became the basis of in-school fights.

On Tuesday, officials refused to divulge how many students and images might be involved. Chambersburg Area School District Assistant Superintendent Eric Michael said national statistics indicate about 20 percent of teenagers have sent or posted online nude or semi-nude photos of themselves.

As the law is written now, the offense constitutes a felony charge of child pornography, which has long-term ramifications for the person charged, Beynon said. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association is working to change the offense's grading to give more leeway, she said.

"This is more far-reaching that people realize," Beynon said. "While (the images) were intended for a boyfriend or girlfriend, they could be anywhere in the world."

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office provides excellent computer forensics resources for officers conducting an investigation, Chambersburg Police Chief David Arnold said.

"You have to realize when you do these things, it's hard to do them anonymously," he said.

"This isn't a school problem and it's not a police problem. It's a community problem," Chambersburg Mayor Pete Lagiovane said.

Some students are telling teachers and principals they received the images without soliciting them. Beynon said parents should do what is necessary to view computers and cell phones, regardless of password protections or even their level of suspicion.

"Take the phone away until they give you a password. You need to be aware that just because your child is on honor roll, is in church groups or isn't giving you any problems, that doesn't mean they aren't doing this," she said.

Michael said the schools have hosted educational presentations about the dangers of sexting in the past and will again soon. Parents will be invited to evening sessions, he said.

"This is a serious offense. Other counties in Pennsylvania are dealing with this, and across the nation, too," Beynon said.

What is Sexting?

Sexting is taking and sending sexually explicit pictures with electronic devices like cell phones.

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