It was the end of the day with the last day of school just around the corner when a young girl came into the office in tears. Seeking the help of one of Auburn (NY) High School’s School Resource Officers, hysteria threatened to overtake her. Officer Jim Slayton listened as she told her tale. She had sent a nude photo to this boy she was dating. A friend came to her and told her that it was now being sent around the school. Slayton recognized this behavior as sexting, and knew it can have severe consequences—not only for the girl—but for others involved as well. “We hustled that day and found the four individuals who it had been sent to,” he explains. “Two didn’t even have their phones turned on yet. We had them just delete anything that came from the phone number without even opening it up. We went to the boy and we explained the law to him and his guardian. There was a sense of urgency. We only had an hour.” Once people go home, he says the situation escalates as the photo is viewed, shown around and sent to more people.
The Auburn Police Department had integrated cyberbullying/sexting education into their curriculum. The students knew about the issues and who they could go to if they encountered any problems, and the officers knew the relevant laws and techniques on how to deal with it when it came up. “It shows the relationship the officer has with the students,” Sergeant Greg Dann, Auburn’s SRO supervisor states. “They were able to come to them and ask for help. When they came back and told her they were able to get to all the phones and the photo was deleted, you could see a weight was lifted. We got a phone call from the parents thanking us.”
Auburn Police Department is one of many law enforcement agencies, along with numerous school administrators, teachers, parents and community members concerned with the problems modern technology has created, especially in reference to minors.
What is it?
Many definitions exist to describe harmful and/or criminal behaviors by minors utilizing technology. Two of the most pervasive are cyberbullying and sexting. Parry Aftab, a U.S. lawyer, child advocate and cyberlaw expert, developed and runs StopCyberbullying.org the most popular cyberbullying prevention website online. Aftab defines cyberbullying as “any cyber-communication or publication posted or sent by a minor online, by instant message, e-mail, website, diary site, online profile, interactive game, handheld device, cell phone, game device, digital camera or video, webcam or use of any interactive device that is intended to frighten, embarrass, harass, hurt, set up, cause harm to, extort or otherwise target another minor." She further sums this up stating “Cyberbullying is when minors use digital technology as a weapon to target and hurt another minor." Important aspects of cyberbullying are it has to be between two minors, and for the most part it must be intentional.
Sexting can be a separate or integrated issue depending on what happens to the photograph. The 2009 Cox Communications Teen Online & Wireless Safety Survey defined sexting as sending, receiving or forwarding sexually suggestive nude, or nearly nude, photos through text message or e-mail. In the survey, 61 percent of the sexters were between the ages of 16 to 18 while 39 percent were 13 to 15 years of age.
According to polls Aftab conducted while visiting schools in the U.S. and Canada, 85 percent of students admitted to being targeted by cyberbullies within the last year. 50 percent have heard of or seen a website/profile/quiz bashing another student in their school, and 75 percent have visited one. 40 percent have had their password stolen and changed by a cyberbully (locking them out of their own account) or had communications sent to others posing as them on the Internet or by grabbing an unattended cell phone. Although the term cyberbullying applies to anyone under 18, high school students generally don’t use this phrase. Instead it’s more accurately defined by the MTV term “digital drama.”