"It's out there forever." City sees rise in teen sexting, social media plays a role
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - She never speaks a word.
Instead, through a series of flashcards in a Youtube video, 15-year-old Amanda Todd shares her story.
One of depression, and anxiety. Of bullying and blackmail. All after one nude photo was sent to everyone she knew.
One month after she made the video, Amanda Todd killed herself.
"It appears that it's a lot more wider spread than we actually believe," said Detective Thomas Ransford of the Sierra Vista Police Department.
In Sierra Vista, teen sexting cases are on the rise.
"One of the interviews I did with a student, she actually said 'I'm just doing what everyone else is doing,'" said Ransford.
He says he's personally investigated four teen sexting cases in as many months and the department itself has seen a spike.
But the majority of incidents go unreported. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, one in five students has sent a sexually suggestive or nude photo of themselves to others.
"This is a whole new territory for us," said Tim Wernette an educator who works for a University of Arizona program designed to talk to students about these issues.
He says he's noticed students as young as elementary school using social media.
"It's often experimentation," he said. "It's I wonder what would happen if I took a picture of myself nude and sent it to my friends or to my boyfriend or my girlfriend."
But its not just old fashioned text messages anymore, there are a slew of applications and a new one comes out everyday.
"It's like giving them a car or a tank to drive around without any driver training you know, and it's potentially dangerous."
One of the apps showing up in Detective Ransford's cases is Snapchat, a photo sharing app marketed as "living in the moment."
Here's how it works: you take a photo and then designate how long your recipient gets to view that photo, lets say 10 seconds. When they open it, the countdown begins and then poof, it's gone. But does it really disappear?
A look at Snapchat's fine print will tell you, these photos don't just evaporate. Users can take screen shots of images before the timer runs out. And even if all methods of deletion occur Snapchat's user privacy states:
"There may be ways to access Snaps while still in temporary storage on recipients' devices or forensically even after they are deleted. You should not use Snapchat to send messages if you want to be certain that the recipient cannot keep a copy."
"Most of these kids don't read the fine print," said Wernette. "They just sign up."
And police detectives can definitely access those photos.
"We have resources with the agencies that have the applications and we will get the subpoena and subpoena the archives," said Ransford. "Cause once it's on the web, it's on the web."
Once police have the photos, charges will follow.
"A lot of them don't realize it," said Ransford. "They think if it's between two consenting partners, it's OK. They don't realize that it falls under the child pornography statute."
Charges range from a misdemeanor to a class two felony, and that brings jail time.
But perhaps the most serious consequence -- emotional damage.
"They just feel total humiliation from this," said Wernette. "This is serious stuff, it hurts people very deeply."
Detective Ransford advises parents to know what's on your child's phone and who they are interacting with. Also talk to them about the consequences of sending inappropriate photos.
Some of the popular social media apps are Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, FaceTime, GO HD, SpoofCard, Burner and Hushed.
- a/s/l/p: age/sex/location/pic
- CD9: code 9 parents around
- FYEO: For your eyes only
- HSWM: Have sex with me
- NIFOC: Naked in front of computer
- PAW: Parents are watching
- POS: Parents over shoulder
- sugarpic: A suggestive or explicit photograph
*Source: Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.