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Of school policy on sexting

The Cyberbullying Research Center has some helpful policy-development advice for schools – policy all middle and high schools should have in place, says Sameer Hinduja, author, researcher, and co-director of the Center. I so agree, because clearly stated and implemented policy reduces the emotion and politics that only add to the emotional harm some students incur by having extremely embarrassing photos publicly shared. I am concerned that authorities only add to kids’ victimization when they mishandle sensitive cases (for example, in one case, and probably not the only one, students were led out of school in handcuffs). So in a school policy about sexting investigation and response, I would want a school psychologist or counselor on the team with administrators, law enforcement people, and the parents of the students involved. I was glad to see that the Research Center recommends that parents be that team. As for the range of behaviors that could be involved, the best source to date is the Crimes Against Children Research Center’s new sexting typology, putting those behaviors in two categories: “Experimental” and “Aggravated” (see this).

School policy and penalties should not only be sure to handle cases differently, based on what category the behavior falls into; they should also handle students differently, based on what investigations reveal about their motives. For example, if two students were involved in “experimental” sexting that led to an honest (or stupid but non-malicious) mistake on the part of one of them (such as forwarding a photo to a friend who turns around and distributes it widely), the mistake should be penalized differently from the malicious action of the 3rd party. The prosecutor in the Washington State case (linked to from my first link above) treated mistaken and malicious actions in the same way – with charges of dissemination of child pornography, a Class C felony. These were 8th-graders! I wonder if even malicious behavior on the part of a 13- or 14-year-old be treated as a felony crime. Apparently the state of Vermont didn’t think so when it altogether decriminalized sexting by minors. Do let me know what you think (via anne [at] netfamilynews.org or in comments below)! [See also “Sexting: What to tell a kid sent nude photos via cellphone.“]

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  1. Hello Annie Collier,

    We run a registered society called JaagoTeens and counsel students in schools of New Delhi, India on safe internet usage. So far we have talked to about 8,500 students in over 25 schools. I regularly read the mails from your organization.

    I was reading about the motives that you had mentioned while distributing a photo being either malicious or mistaken. I don’t think one forwards a photo by mistake.A second or third grade student could make a mistake but not an eight grade student.
    An eight grade student might not think of the consequences but such things certainly don’t happen by mistake. So I feel the intent has to be malicious or the student lacks empathy towards the victim.

    The punishment could be waived or just a stern warning can be sufficient the first time such an offence is committed. But the next time the punishment has to be strong enough to deter them from doing such things.

    Since we keep meeting principals, teachers and counselors of schools on a regular basis I could also ask them how do they deal with such situations.

    April 23, 2011

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