PARENTS: PREVENT 'SEXTING'
Parents should draft an accountability contract with teens regarding their electronic devices. The Seminole County Sheriff's Office has an example.
Contact your cellphone carrier, which offer programs to help parents monitor teen data use at a monthly cost.
Parents should educate themselves on the latest trends and rules of the digital age.
Report any images you or your child receive immediately. If the child did not ask for the image, your child is not considered as having participated in sexting.
To remove photos and videos of yourself online, contact the website and request they remove the image or video. Be direct, and at a minimum, include your age at the time the image was produced and current age; that you are recognizable in the image; and that you object to the content.If a child you know is being victimized by someone online, report it to cybertipline.com. Anyone who sends obscene photos or videos, talks to a minor about sex or asks to meet in person should be reported.
Sources: NeedHelpNow.ca; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Seminole County Sheriff
ORLANDO, Fla. — The attention of a boy swayed a girl to make one of the most regrettable decisions of her young life.
She immediately felt sick to her stomach, but the Seminole County middle-schooler pressed "send" on a text message containing a risque picture that circulated like spring fever among the boys at her school.
"He begged and begged for naked photographs until one day I finally gave in to his begging," the student wrote in testimony used by the Seminole County Sheriff's Office to educate other girls. "No guy or girl is worth exposing yourself to or ruining your life for."
The consequences of sexting are more than embarrassment — they can be criminal. And now, those compromising photos are finding their way to pornography websites where they can live forever.
As the holidays approach, mobile devices are sure to be on the wish list of many teens eager for the latest and fastest Internet-enabled technology for sharing pics, tweets, messages, videos and games.
But law enforcement authorities caution parents to couple those gifts with a present for themselves: reconnaissance software to monitor every picture, text and piece of data their kids send electronically.
In recent years, Seminole sheriff's Investigator Christie Register has identified at least 22 current and former students who found their revealing pictures on sites where users have requested their photos by name.
"Every single one of them were giving these pictures away to somebody," Register said about the victims. "Once you give it away, that person can do whatever they want."
There is little law enforcement can do because most of the websites are hosted on overseas servers.
Typically, girls are coerced by male schoolmates or a boyfriend to transmit the photos using smartphone apps such as Snapchat, whose "view once" feature promises to make the image disappear from the recipient's phone within seconds.
Although the images were intended to be private, a simple screen shot can preserve them, Register said.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found in a 2013 online survey that one in five girls between the ages of 13 and 16 admitted to sexting or posting nude or semi-nude photos.
A quarter of them reported their sexually suggestive images were redistributed.
In the Seminole County example, the female student was publicly shamed when her classmates received the photos and called her demeaning names.
Underage teens in Florida caught sending nude pictures to another minor could be found guilty of a noncriminal violation for the first offense -- penalized by community service and a $60 fine.
But a second or third offense could result in misdemeanor and felony charges, according to state law.
One of the victims on Register's list is a college student whose years-old naked photos appeared online.
"After locating the pictures I realized they have been on these sites for over 5 years," the unidentified woman wrote in her testimonial for Register. "After looking more and more I found that most of the girls I went to high school with had pictures all over these sites too."
The pictures, which were "supposed to be innocent," were taken from a photo-sharing website with privacy settings that made the woman feel safe about posting them. But it was far from secure.
"Now as I continue my journey through college I worry that someone else may have come across my pictures who may be a potential employer," the aspiring teacher wrote.
Register has traveled to schools throughout the county, hosted seminars at the Sheriff's Office and participated in an online chat about the trend, warning families that once data is on the Internet, it can never be taken back.
"The bottom line is these are the dangers of sexting," she said. "This is the worst-case scenario."