Of school policy on sexting

Advice on policy development for schools from the Cyberbullying Research Center, with a 2 additional thoughts from us

By Anne Collier

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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