The Durham Police Department is investigating a report of a video of a topless student at Jordan High being sent around the school, according to court documents.
On May 21, an officer responded to a report of a dissemination of obscene materials at the high school at 6806 Garrett Road and spoke with a 16-year-old female student and her mother, according to a search warrant application filed by detective W.L. Hunt.
The student told the officer “a video showing her face and her exposed breasts was being sent around her high school,” the warrant states. The video was taken in September 2017 during a FaceTime session with a male student, she told police, the warrant states.
The student had willingly exposed her breasts during the session, “but she was not told [by the student] that he was going to record her and he never told her after the fact that he recorded it,” the warrant states.
The video being sent around the school is a recording of the video as it plays on a school computer at Jordan, the document states.
The male student told the detective that he had recorded the session and uploaded the video to his personal Google photo account associated with his Gmail account.
The search warrant, which was issued and executed on Wednesday, sought access to the Google account. The warrant did not provide any information on whether the male student said he shared the video.
“This is an ongoing DPD investigation, and no charges have been filed at this time,” police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.
"Due to FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] and to protect the privacy of the students involved, we cannot comment on any disciplinary action," said Durham Public Schools spokesman Chip Sudderth.
DPS considers the transmission of any “sexually explicit messages or any nude, partially nude, sexually explicit or sexually suggestive photographs, video recordings, or other visual depictions of themselves or others” an offense that could result in in-school interventions, in-school discipline, short-term suspension of no longer than 10 days and possible long-term suspension (with aggravating factors) lasting more than 10 days.
Students are also warned in the Student Code of Conduct that “transmission of such images or messages to, among, or depicting minors may cause grave psychological or emotional harm and may violate state or federal child pornography laws, even when sent or received consensually.”
Teens and technology
Sameer Hinduja, a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University and co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center, studies the intersection of teens and technology.
The center defines sexting as sending or receiving sexually explicit or suggestive images or video via a cell phone and other devices.
Young people in romantic relationships or with crushes sometimes send the images as a way of flirting, deepening intimacy or stirring curiosity, he said.
The center’s research has shown about one in five American teens has received a “sext,” while about one in 10 has sent them, Hinduja said.
“So that is not an epidemic,” he said.
About 27 percent of teens sent a sext and 15 percent said they received one, according to a study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in April.
About 12 percent forwarded a sext without consent and 8 percent had a sext forwarded, it found.
“The prevalence of sexting has increased in recent years and increases as youth age,” the study of more than 110,000 teens found.
In some cases, sexting has been linked to bullying and suicide, but Hinduja said only a fraction of a percent of the teens in those cases killed themselves. In the cases where teens were suicidal, there were atypical circumstances going on, such as abuse at home, or young people who were clinically depressed or on psychotropic medicine, he said.
“Research has never found the direct relationship,” he said. “Just sometimes we see the other things are going on in a kid’s life and that (bullying) just sort of takes them over the edge.”
The center is also seeing more “sextortion” incidents in which a teen has used a nude photo to extort money, more photos, sexual favors and other actions, Hinduja said. About 6 percent of teens have faced those situations, he said.
In Hinduju’s experience, he said, laws and policies preventing sexting aren’t effective in deterring youth.
Instead he recommends reminding teens that they never know where the photos will end up and that most relationships in middle and high school don’t last.
“The reality is that, unfortunately, break-ups in middle and high school end up leading to a lot of hurt feeling sand desires for revenge and then these pictures get shared,” he said.
And if nude photos are shared, it could impact their future, Hinduja said.
“So much about your future in terms of opportunities that come your way are going to be based on how people judge your digital reputation online,” he said.
When talking to students, Hinduja emphasizes that most teens don’t sext because it objectifies people and it is not respectful or mature behavior.
“Hopefully, we can use peer pressure in order to induce the rest of the student body to get on board with us,” he said.
No laws in NC
North Carolina, unlike some states, doesn’t have laws on teen sexting, so the conduct is typically prosecuted under laws that carry severe penalties, including sex offender registration and imprisonment for up to 20 years, wrote LaToya Powell, a former UNC School of Government expert in delinquent juveniles and juvenile justice, in a N.C. Bar Association blog post.
In another UNC School of Government blog, Powell, who now now works for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, wrote that there are three categories of criminal offenses in North Carolina that could be used to charge teens younger than 18 with sexting: obscenity laws, laws that prohibit disseminating harmful material to minors and laws targeting the sexual exploitation of minors.
In her writings, Powell has pointed to a 2015 case in which two teenagers in Fayetteville were charged with felony child pornography for sending naked photos of each other when they were 16.
Even when charges are dismissed or reduced, the “collateral consequences,” can be devastating, ranging from significant legal fees to lost scholarships, she wrote.
In 2015, the state made it illegal to post nude photos online without the consent of the victim after a personal relationship ends. Lawmakers broadened the law in 2017 by eliminating the reference to personal relationships and including live transmissions.
Resources for teens and parents
For more information on online safety and tips for teens: www.netsmartz.org.
For more information about sexting, the Cyberbullying Research Center can be found here: https://cyberbullying.org/
If you are in crisis and you need to speak to someone, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.