Safe "sexting?" No such thing, teens warned

CANBERRA Mon May 4, 2009 7:36am EDT

A woman uses her mobile telephone to send a text message in a central Sydney shopping mall September 15, 2003. REUTERS/Will Burgess

A woman uses her mobile telephone to send a text message in a central Sydney shopping mall September 15, 2003.

Credit: Reuters/Will Burgess

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Teens sending nude or suggestive photos of themselves over their mobile phones are being warned -- "sexting" can damage your future.

Australia's state government of New South Wales launched an education campaign this week to combat the growing practice of "sexting," saying these images or sexually explicit text messages can be posted on the Internet or forwarded to others, which can end up in harassment or even sexual assault.

"Sexting," a play on the term texting, has become a concern for parents and schools internationally with the proliferation of mobile phones with cameras and social networking sites, but such images can be classified as child pornography by law.

"Young people often don't think about the consequences of their actions. What they think is an innocent joke or harmless flirting can be very damaging if it falls into the wrong hands," said NSW Community Service Minister Linda Burney in a statement.

"It is frightening to think that once these images are online or on a phone, anyone anywhere in the world can access them. It is then impossible to retrieve and delete them. They are there forever and can damage future career prospects or relationships." She said government departments had received reports of girls as young as 13 sending sexually explicit images to their boyfriends on their mobiles phones, which were then passed on to other friends and even further once the relationships ended.

In the United States, a survey last fall found one in five teenagers said they had sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves and 39 percent said they had sent or posted sexually suggestive messages, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Teenage actress Vanessa Hudgens, star of the successful "High School Musical" franchise, last year had to live down the scandal of her semi-nude pictures, meant for boyfriend Zac Ephron, ending up online.

Several prosecutions have been undertaken or threatened in the United States and one girl, Jessica Logan, 18, from Cincinnati, committed suicide after being taunted when a nude photo of herself sent via text was circulated at her school.

The NSW government has produced a fact sheet for schools, parents and youngsters to warn about the possible lifetime consequences of sexting while Burney was hitting the airwaves to publicize the campaign: "Safe Sexting, No Such Thing."

Burney is also urging parents to talk to children about the issue and to check their social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook for any inappropriate images.

"More and more parents are telling me how worried they are about their children making a silly mistake that can affect them for the rest of their lives," said Burney.

"Reports from concerned adults are becoming more frequent... a dangerous consequence is the risk of public humiliation, harassment or even sexual assault."

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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