GUEST COLUMN: Accomack authorities warn students of sexting

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BY J. SPENCER MORGAN, Accomack County Commonwealth’s Attorney —

Recently I have had the opportunity to speak to a number of school groups with my colleagues, Accomack County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Jason Campbell, Director Erica Lawson of the 2A Court Services Unit, and Shermaine Wright, a juvenile probation officer with the 2A Court Services unit, about what I like to call “digital dangers” that can arise from misuse of cellphones and other internet-enabled devices.

These opportunities to speak to school groups were created by Campbell to have what he describes as “uncomfortable conversations” about teen and pre-teen sexting and nude images.

Our offices are collaborating in bringing this discussion to students because of the sharp increase in cases involving juveniles and the misuse of digital devices that put children at risk.

Accomack is not alone in this phenomenon, as recent statistics provided by the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia show:

n Nearly 1 in 7 of children aged 9 to 12 shared their own nude photos in 2020, and there was a sharp increase in children who admitted to seeing non-consensually re-shared nudes of others;

n One in five girls aged 13 to 17 shared their own nudes;

n One in 10 boys aged 13 to 17 shared their own nudes;

n Forty percent of teens aged 13 to 17 agreed, “it’s normal for people my age to share nudes with each other.”

It is important to note and we make this clear in our discussions with students, what is “normal” in this instance does not mean that this behavior is right or safe.

These statistics show the scope and breadth of the problems that children are encountering. These activities have long-lasting effects on a child, result in victimization of the child by peers or adults, or potentially expose children to criminal charges.

The goal of the sheriff’s office, my office, and the court services unit, is to educate these students about these dangers.

Our hope is that these conversations will continue at home and that parents and guardians will talk to their children about these issues.

Parents with questions or concerns can contact any of the three offices involved in this effort.

— The writer is the commonwealth’s attorney of Accomack County.

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