In her discussion of the sexting phenomenon, Amy Hasinoff, makes excellent points in regards to how the media views sexting, such as there seeming to be a zero tolerance policy with sexting; it’s wrong even if its between consenting teens. Some of the laws Hasinoff points out are plain ridiculous, like the one about how consensual sex between 17 year olds is perfectly legal, yet any filming or photographing of said sex immediately becomes illegal and child porn.
Watching news pieces on sexting shows how disconnected so much of society is in regards to sexting; the laws especially highlight this. In one story:
“Under a Nevada law passed by the last Legislature, if a child sends a text of a sexual nature, such as graphic photos or explicit language, he or she can be charged with a juvenile status offense”
The articles and stories always treat the sexting as if it’s a huge deal and a negative. Hasinoff makes an excellent point where she points out:
“Rather than viewing adolescents’ creative use of digital media to express their sexuality as a potentially positive development, the dominant media, legal, and educational response to sexting has viewed it as a technological, sexual, and moral crisis. Struggling to understand sexting, many cultural commentators assume that it is the result of an overly sexualized culture combined with access to technology.”
Hasinoff points out that there are two “dominant anxieties” of the mainstream when it comes to sexting; one is who the girls are talking to, and the other is how the girls are communicating. One thing I kept noticing while reading Hasinoff’s discussion on sexting is that she generally makes the victims female; the girls are the victims and boys are the shadowy, mysterious, and horny youth. I kept thinking while reading, “well couldn’t a male be the victim, too?”. I thought back to the anti-sexting PSA we watched in class, and how the males were laughing as they stared at naked pictures of the female victim; I personally have witnessed the same situation with the gender roles reversed, albeit minus the fist bumps and raucous laughter. On more than one occasion, a girl friend of mine has been hanging out in a group and on her own volition, shared pictures she has received from various men with us.
But obviously, men could be the victims, too. And they have. In Seattle recently, a twenty year old man, Pedro Navarro, pretended to be a young girl in order to solicit naked photos from boys around the ages of thirteen and fourteen. Navarro was friended on Facebook by a young boy looking to increase his friend numbers (something like this is probably why EyeGuardian exists; you can hear the mothers across the country taking their sons’ computers away). Navarro then claimed that he had a younger sister who might be interested in talking to the young boy. Cue the dummy profile, “Samantha”. The situation quickly turned:
“Samantha became mean and threatened that her dad was in the FBI and that ‘she’ was going to tell him that (the boy) had threatened her. Police say when the boy agreed to finally send a sexually explicit photo, “Samantha” allegedly said it was no longer good enough and suggested the boy allow her brother, referring to Navarro, to perform a sexual act on him.”
Hasinoff discusses incidents like this; anonymity of the internet allows people to present a self that is simply not true. Navarro was not a young girl like his profile claimed. He was trying to garner photos, and eventually, sexual encounters from young boys. It is incidents like these that spur panic from parents and lawmakers everywhere and it is incidents like these that make programs like EyeGuardian viable in today’s tech heavy world.
Hasinoff goes on to write that safety seminars were given to girls about online behavior and how to avoid an online predator in the early 00’s. But perhaps said seminars should have been given to boys, too. Someone in aforementioned young boy’s life obviously failed to mention to him that friending older strangers might yield not-so-great results. You can argue that Navarro shouldn’t have been soliciting content from a young boy to begin with, obviously, but you cannot discount the fact that boy sought Navarro out first because no one probably taught him that internet strangers could be dangerous.
It is obvious from the various stories about sexting in schools that a serious re-evaluation of laws and practices is necessary. Teens who want to consensually “sext” with another teen should be able to and should not be treated as criminals. It is, like Hasinoff says, an expression of sexuality in the digital age. But of course, vigilance is key. Teens need to be taught not to seek out strangers on the internet and be informed of stories like the Navarro situation. By blanketing sexting, regardless of who is doing it, as unlawful, you add yet another illegal thing that teens may want to do solely for the fact that it’s taboo. In reality, they need to be aware that pressing that send button is sometimes okay, and sometimes not.