The rise in technology has brought conveniences and unprecendented social connection, but it has also brought depression, anxiety, loneliness and even criminal activity to teens.
Editor’s Note: All names of students have been changed in order to protect the identity of the victims and the offender.
by Savannah Ames
She had been Snapchatting him for a long time. It was obvious that he was interested in her, but she only saw him as a friend. He would send her videos of his friends when they were together, which is what she expected to see one night when the notification appeared on her phone.
She opened the message to witness a graphic video of him in the shower. Shocked and disgusted, she didn’t respond to his message, unsure of what had just happened. The boy proceeded to repeatedly send her similar messages without her consent. Eventually, he asked her to send something in return.
Jane is just one of many girls who are victims of sexting. The technological phenomenon becomes more and more common every day among teens.
“People aren’t going to see it as a problem because everyone’s doing it,” Jane said.
Though “everyone” might not be doing it, many students have been involved–or know of someone who has been involved–in sexting.
Sexting is the act of sharing sexually explicit photographs, videos or messages via electronic devices such as smartphones. The increase in the use of smartphones has led to an increase in sexting because of the many channels of communication that are available on smart devices. One of the main communication channels used for sexting is an app called Snapchat.
Snapchat allows users to interact with others through pictures, videos and chatting. One of the most popular features of Snapchat is that messages can be set to “disappear” after a few seconds; however, that doesn’t always mean the message is really gone. Users may screenshot messages before they disappear, and Snapchat notifies a user if their message has been screenshotted.
“Snapchat makes it seem safe. You send the picture, and it’s gone. When something gets screenshotted, that’s scary,” Erica said.
Snapchat notifies a user if their message has been screenshotted, but by the time they receive that notification, it’s too late. The screenshotted message is at the will of the receiver, and they often share it with others.
Even if you aren’t notified that your message was screenshotted, that does not mean that person doesn’t have it saved in another way. There are apps that allow someone to screenshot a message on Snapchat without notifying the person who sent it. There is no limit to the ways that sexually explicit images–commonly referred to as nudes–can be saved.
“I have a lot of friends who are guys, and they say when girls send them nudes, they’ll take a picture on their old phone. And they have a phone just full of girls’ nudes,” Erica said.
There are several tactics that boys use to obtain nude images from girls. Different girls shared how boys would sweet-talk them, tell them what they wanted to hear, gain their trust, and then ask them for pictures or to participate in sexual acts.
“I know a lot of guys will use, ‘I’ll send them if you send them’,” Amanda said. She shared how a guy that she had been messaging got her to share nude pictures of herself. After he sent pictures of himself to her, she felt pressured to send some back.
Grace, an NS alumna, shared that she had once texted a boy to ask him for help in one of her classes, and he asked her to send him nudes as a return of favor. Grace refused, but other girls claim that it’s not always easy to say no.
In some cases, the boy asks the girl to send pictures multiple times before she gives in to the pressure. In other cases, the girl may feel pressured to comply because she doesn’t want to ruin the relationship she has with the boy.
“The only reason I have ever sent a nude is because I was pressured into it because I was doing it for my boyfriend at the time,” Erica said.
At the moment, the boy that is asking for the pictures isn’t considering how it makes the girl feel. Erica said that it is selfish for boys to put so much pressure on girls without considering whether the girl is comfortable with what they’re asking.
“It’s an issue that girls are being pressured into things and it’s an issue that guys think it’s okay,” Erica said. She strongly believes that more needs to be done to make boys aware that what they’re doing is wrong.
Girls are hurt by sexting in different ways. Those whose pictures are shared with many people without their consent face embarrassment and harassment from their peers. Some receive negative responses from the boys that they send pictures to, causing them to have a poor self-image that sometimes even leads to eating disorders.
“It messes with your mind, and it slowly breaks you down. People think it’s okay and that it doesn’t affect them, but it really does,” Marissa said.
He walked down the hall, noticing the dirty looks people gave him as they turned to their friends whispering about him. Everyone knew what he had done. Kids had told their parents, parents had told their friends.It seemed as if everyone in the community looked at him differently. He couldn’t go to a party or to a friend’s house without someone bringing it up. They didn’t see him for who he was– they only saw the mistakes he made.
Logan is one of many boys that have engaged in sexting. For him, the habit started when he was in middle school. Teens encounter sexting at different ages but generally have their first experience with it from ages 13-15.
“You don’t even realize that what you’re doing can be a serious issue,” Logan said, “At the time you don’t think it’s a big deal.”
It is a different experience for everyone. Some teens start sexting and never drop the habit, others try it once and never do it again. Many boys see it as an opportunity to gain popularity. Logan described how he and other boys solicit girls for pictures.
“It would be one of your friends that you talk to, and you probably start talking about sex and stuff like that, and then eventually, you’d probably end up asking for a photo,” Logan said.
Many boys don’t understand the dangers of the practice and what can come from participating in it. He mentioned his friend whose sexting habits led to an addiction to pornography.
“Your mind turns from seeing people and seeing women as people to [seeing women] as objects… That’s just what your mind automatically goes to when that’s all you think about,” Logan said.
Eventually, Logan realized that what he had done was wrong. He came to understand the harm that he brought on himself and the girls that he had sexted.
“It’s going to make it harder for them to be in a relationship, and it’s going to make it harder for them to like a guy without having to worry about that kind of thing,” Logan said. “That’s what I regret most, is knowing that I’ve done that to somebody and that I’ve ruined a lot of good things for them.”
Logan went to those that he had hurt and apologized for what he had done to them. He knows what he did is inexcusable, but he has learned from his mistakes and hopes that he can be an example to others that make the same mistake.
What Can We Do?
Sexting has been an issue for a long time, and it always will be, but there are things that teenagers, parents, and communities can do to help fight against this problem.
Several NS students admitted that they wouldn’t be willing to talk to their parents if they were having a problem with sexting because parents don’t understand it.
“[Parents] have to be willing to listen, and they have to understand that this isn’t necessarily something that any of them ever dealt with when they were a kid,” said Sergeant Greg Peterson, Resource Officer for Sanpete County School District.
The increase in the number of teenagers that own smartphones means that parents need to educate themselves and their kids about the dangers of sexting.
“If they have that conversation with them at an early age when they first get a smartphone, I feel like they probably have a better understanding of why it’s wrong or why not to do it,” Logan said.
If children come forward to their parents about a problem they are having, parents should be patient and should try to understand what they are going through. They need to understand the difficulty of the situation their children are in so that they can help them overcome the problem.
“Blowing up about it is not going to help because blowing up about things like that only makes your kids not want to come to you about anything,” Erica said. She said that she would rather people look at an explicit photo of her than go to her parents about it because she is afraid of how they would react.
Teenagers should be aware of the consequences they can receive by participating in sexting. Sexting is punishable by law in the state of Utah. Students that are under the age of 18 may be subject to punishment by the Juvenile Justice System. Those above the age of 18 may be registered as a sex offender if they are caught for sexting.
“When people are sending those pictures out, we can charge them for distribution for child pornography,” Peterson said.
The most important thing is that students speak up if they have a problem with sexting. If students are facing this problem, they are encouraged to reach out to Principal Nan Ault, Assistant Principal Jeff Ericksen, counselors, teachers or Officer Peterson. Students may reach out using the SafeUT app that allows them to report an issue anonymously.
“Talk to somebody. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right,” Peterson said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As a general rule, the NS Times does not use anonymous sources except in special cases that include the following considerations: the information comes from a reliable source with direct knowledge of a topic, the source has important information that is essential to the story and that cannot be obtained any other way, and/or the information being shared would be damaging to the source. We are grateful for the students who were willing to share their difficult stories.