AG Observes National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month – warns about dangers of sexting

 AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today warned Texas teens and parents about the dangers of sexting. Attorney General Abbott’s comments came during a visit to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (NTDAH). Based in Austin, NTDAH offers troubled teens the only 24-hour help line in the country where trained teen advocates counsel fellow teens about digital harassment.

Attorney General Abbott also encouraged Texas teens to contact NTDAH when they encounter peer pressure to participate in sexting. Sexting is the emerging practice of teens electronically sending sexually explicit messages or images, primarily between cell phones. Attorney General Abbott, as part of National Teen Dating Violence & Prevention Month, warned young Texans and their families that sexting can lead to embarrassment, regret, and even legal dangers, including possible prison time.

“Fortunately, NTDAH and its trained teen advocates are working to counsel young Texans and help fellow teens learn to avoid the peer pressure, shame and damages associated with sexting,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Young Texans should never send a revealing or explicit picture of themselves. Once an image has been sent, it cannot be controlled. A single instance of bad judgment can lead to long-term regret, embarrassment or worse. Anyone who possesses sexually suggestive pictures of a minor faces criminal investigation and up to 10 years in prison.”

Attorney General Abbott reminded young Texans that a message’s sender cannot control the message’s distribution. A recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that nearly 20 percent of sexting recipients have passed the image to a third person – who the original sender may or may not know. Suggestive photographs also can be transferred to a computer, posted on public Web sites or printed and distributed.

Before pressing “Send,” teens should consider five tips:

• Do not assume anything sent or posted is going to remain private.
• Anything sent or posted in cyberspace will never truly go away.
• Do not give in to the pressure to do something that causes discomfort, even in cyberspace.
• Consider the recipient’s reaction.
• Nothing is truly anonymous.

The attorney general also warned teens that sexting can be a crime. The owner of a computer or cell phone containing images of nude or semi-nude minors can be investigated and prosecuted for possessing and distributing child pornography charges – a felony. Teens in possession of sexually suggestive images of classmates or companions under 18 face up to 10 years in prison.

Attorney General Abbott added: “Growing up can be a difficult learning process, so it is important for parents, counselors and even fellow students to help prevent teenagers from making bad decisions. Often, it helps to remind someone about consequences – which in the case of sexting can range from humiliation to suspension from school, bans on athletic participation, job loss or college scholarship revocation. We’re asking young Texans to think twice before sexting – but don’t take it from us, just ask a fellow teen by calling NTDAH.”

The most important source of prevention and education is active parenting. Texas parents must have frank conversations with their children about the potential for embarrassment and the legal ramifications of sexting. If teens do not want a photo or text message to fall into the wrong hands – including strangers, potential employers, teachers or college admission officers – they should not send it.

Attorney General Abbott concluded: “No teenager should succumb to peer pressure and be convinced that sexting is harmless or okay. It is not. When you are young, it is sometimes hard to understand the lasting implications of your actions, but the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline can provide our children with the positive encouragement and guidance they need to respond to these challenges.”

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