GREENVILLE — An appropriation transfer of $1,500 to Darke County Juvenile Court for “Sexting Education” expenses was approved at a May 1 Darke County Board of Commissioners meeting.
“Sexting” is understood as the practice of sending, sharing and/or receiving (creating, sharing, and forwarding) images and/or texts that include sexually suggestive, nude or nearly-nude images to a person’s cell phone, or other electronic media, such as the Internet.
According to Darke County Juvenile Court Chief Probation Officer Paul W. Garrett, research on the subject has been hard to pin down, because kids do not always tell the truth when involved in this type of activity. A paper “Sexting at a Young Age — A Revealing Overview” written by Richard Chalfen, Ph.D., Center on Media and Child Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, 2014, said most statistics are uneven and cause for debate, mainly because of differences in definitions of “sexting.”
“Surveys have estimated the percentage of teenagers who have engaged in the behavior at anywhere from four to 25 percent,” Chalfen said in his paper. “For example, a 2011 Pew study reported that four percent of children ages 12 to 17 had sent ‘sexts’ and that 15 percent had received them. One new study conducted at seven high schools in Texas, found that “one in four teens had sent a nude picture of themselves by e-mail or text message“ (Strauss, 2012).
One frequently cited reference point is that nationally, 20 percent of teens admitted to sending a nude photo and 30 percent said they have received a nude photo. In several studies, nationally, a higher percent of teenage girls than teenage boys admit to sending nude or semi-nude photos and videos of themselves using their cell phones.
Statistics aside, all people involved in sexting do not have the same malicious intent, but they are usually getting charged the same way, says Garrett.
“I think our Prosecutor’s Office is doing a good job in differentiating that type of stuff out at the very beginning,” Garrett said. “The charges people are receiving are different depending on the behavior, and I think that is kind of a good approach, because that doesn’t put everyone in one specific spot. It is making sure that people involved in sexting behavior, in an extremely malicious way, are probably charged more than people involved with sharing a photo or two back and forth between a boyfriend and girlfriend. We have seen other counties charge everyone with the same offense. It is kind of like a top-end offense which is pretty severe. Ultimately, the court has to decide what is fair and equitable for everyone.”
While Darke County Juvenile Court tries to take that individualized approach in looking at the cases, Garrett said they noticed a recurring theme.
“We would get four or five cases from a particular school district, they would receive some sort of education or feedback, and then we would get four or five cases from another school district,” he said. “Once the kids become court involved, we are trying to provide an educational opportunity for them. But at the same time, we think we could take a couple of these different components and provide that as an educational opportunity to school districts or in other settings to provide some prevention with this information.”
According to Garrett, the Darke County Juvenile Court’s “Sexting Education” presentations (one to one-and-a-half hours) are designed to cover four different subject matters: Legal Issues, Healthy Relationships, Internet Safety, and Psychological Effects. The education is aimed at both the children and their parents that are on probation or diversion for these types of offenses or charges.
“We have tried to incorporate others to be involved with this programming because it is not just a Juvenile Court-related issue,” Garrett said. “It is a county-related, community resources service provider related issue that probably could use an approach from several different kind of vantage points.”
The sexting education presentations will take place at the Darke County Juvenile Court building. Students will have an opportunity to receive between four and six hours of education hours on the topic, Garrett said.
“We are hopeful that amount of time will be sufficient to provide some sort of positive feedback or positive reaction,” he said. “We are going to take the group of kids we have now (about eight or nine) to roll these first two pieces out for them. We will try to get some feedback from the parents after those first two sessions, as far as what they thought was advantageous or useful for them, and then look at tracking the kids we provided the information to and see how they do. If we are having them back in court for similar related kinds of things, we have to track some numbers on that.”