In April, 2010, one Bethesda, Md middle school student allegedly rented out his iPod Touch to classmates, which contained female classmates in various stages of undress. Read the full story here. The girls apparently posed willingly and most of the images were close-ups of body parts with not many faces showing. But the police determined the girls hadn't been coerced. They were all playing a game--and naturally, they never imagined would get found out. This was the classic: "You show me yours and I'll show you mine" game with 21st Century tools.
Here you have a prime example of what is often considered "experimental" Sexting as opposed to a more malicious form, known as "Cyberbullying Sexting." Parents and Educators need to know the difference and not paint every single circumstance with the same brush. That's why it is important to do a Scene Survey with your teen immediately after discovering a Sexting incident.
Get all of the facts before going to the police. And determine what your state laws are around 'Sexting' right away before making a decision.
A parent involved in this case, wrote more of an in-depth explanation to Ann Collier, Editor of Net Family News (who discussed this case in her blog) The following is his words to Collier.
"I am one of the parents involved in this issue," wrote this father of a then-16-year-old. When school administrative staff ["head principal, two assistants, director of curriculum and the possibility of more," he later told me] started their investigation the morning of Sept. 24, 2009, they knew then that they were dealing with students and nude pictures, but they continued this [investigation] all day long before contacting parents and police, even passing these phones around to other staff.... My son was interrogated by the head principal along with the director of curriculum. They called my son a sex offender, told him he would go to prison, and that he would be placed on Megan's [sex offender] list. Then he was contained in the nurse's office for over two hours. Other students were treated basically the same....
"My son along with [seven] other students [three girls and four boys] admitted they had a picture or pictures on their phones, etc. They told school staff who was in the pictures, etc., [but] the staff still went through [the phones].... The principal told us he didn't want to talk to the girl about this issue, saying 'he felt uncomfortable,' though he didn't mind viewing her pictures and others' as well." [By the sound of it, the police called in at the end of the school day were the best part of this experience, reportedly respectful and clear about the students' rights and what was and wasn't lawful about the school's investigation – for example, a state trooper told the dad that he would need signed parental consent or a warrant signed by a judge to go through students' cell phones. The law differs from state to state, but that's something parents should ask if they're ever in this position: Do school officials have the legal right to search their children's phones without a warrant on school premises?"
Conceding that his son and his friends were not without blame-- "These kids did this willingly, they are friends. Don't get me wrong, I don't condone this, it was stupid, but they were basically keeping this private amongst themselves, meaning no harm.... " the father's point was, the punishment was incompatible with the so-called crime.
The outcome: The students went through public humiliation, arrest (fingerprinting, mug shots, etc.), expulsion hearings before the school board, prosecution as adults, probation, fines, classes, and the possibility of felony convictions remaining on their records.
As Anne Collier's elaborates in her blog post "Of school policy on sexting", cases like this need to boil down to common sense reasoning.
"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."