The past week brought yet another reminder that whether you’re a world-famous celebrity like [artist id=”2335742″]Cassie[/artist] or Vanessa Hudgens or an unknown teen from Anywhere, USA, the leaking of private nude photos often has the same chilling effects: embarrassment and regret that images you thought would remain private are suddenly available to for the world to see.
Cassie has admitted that the nude images of her that leaked last week were stolen from her computer and that they were “obviously never intended for the world to see.” She said it was “sad” that someone would take the time to steal the images and post them and called the perpetrators “just evil.”
Rihanna’s spokespeople didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether the images that leaked on Friday were, in fact, private shots of the singer . But for experts dealing with a rash of “sexting” cases involving teens and middle-schoolers, the news of the reported leak is another troubling sign.
“The commonsense response is that anyone who thinks popular culture is not helping to shape the social script for teens just isn’t paying attention,” said Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “It’s not the only thing, of course, but what’s happening in celebrity culture and what’s happening amongst their peers has a great influence on teens.”
Albert cautioned against the knee-jerk reaction that whatever is happening with the Britneys or Lindsays of the world is to blame for the woes of youth culture. But he noted that in recent surveys, it appears that teens are paying attention to the tabloid exploits of their favorite stars. One of the organization’s recent studies concluded that one in five teens — and even more young adults — admitted to sending or posting nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves.
“You have to believe that what is happening in celebrity culture has played some role in making that behavior seemingly OK,” Albert said. He also noted that even as our society has increasingly gotten more sexualized, the teen birth rate is down by one-third and the teen pregnancy rate is down 38 percent.
While blaming technology for sexting is like blaming cars for drunk driving, Albert said, there is no doubt that the prevalence of cell phones and computers has made it possible for once-private images to become globally accessible. “The technology allows it to happen, but the decisions of young people are driving this,” he said, adding that teens they spoke to in the survey said that sexting often leads to real-world hookups. “It’s the responsibility of young people to say, ’Am I going to take this picture and am I going to press send?’ ”
Aside from the possible embarrassment, in some cases, students are facing very real-world legal consequences for sexting, which some legislators and parents see as a form of harassment. In Pennsylvania, a group of high-schoolers narrowly avoided getting hit with child-pornography charges for some photos they took of themselves that were widely distributed. And in Ohio, lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would make it a misdemeanor for minors to send naked images over their phones. The move comes in the wake of the June suicide of an 18-year-old girl, whose death was spurred, in part, by the harassment and taunting she endured at her school after nude photos she texted to her boyfriend were distributed.
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