Angie Varona, 17, had her Photobucket account hacked when she was 14, causing her world to turn upside down.
The image-hosting website held several inappropriate pictures, each one starring Varona in bikinis and lingerie wear. She never appeared naked.
“I had been notified by a close friend who had seen me in a porn site ad,” Varona said. “I spent the whole summer trying to take down all the pictures, but it was virtually impossible to track down who hacked me. I felt like crap knowing my life was going down the drain.”
After her schoolmates at John A. Ferguson Senior High found out, massive rumors spread like wildfire.
“I remember walking down the hallway, hearing people talk and watching people stare at me,” she said. “There were rumors that I was becoming a porn star.”
In reality, school was the least of her worries.
“I began getting real stalkers,” Varona said. “People from other states found out my address and took pictures of my house. They threatened to rape me.”
Three years later and now homeschooled, Varona is still coping.
“They’re not even getting my pictures from Photobucket anymore,” she said. “They’re getting them through my Facebooks. I can’t even have my real name. I’ve had like six Facebooks now.”
Her initial action of taking pictures for her boyfriend evolved into something she couldn’t imagine. Although her parents were supportive, they were disappointed at her for taking such sexual pictures and having them in the incapable hands of the Internet.
This popular trend of posting nude or sexual pictures has been practiced since cellphone cameras came on the scene.
“It’s everywhere, even where you least expect it – like on your teen’s computer, cellphone and game device,” Parry Aftab, a pioneering Internet law lawyer, said on her website.
“Forty-four percent of boys in coed high schools we polled reported seeing at least one image of a fellow female classmate in the nude,” said Aftab, who practices law in New Jersey. “Most saw images of more than just one girl. And many saw multiple images of each girl. Your daughter may be among them.”
A survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reveals that nearly one in five young people have sent nude pictures electronically or online.
“They’re posting these pictures trying to look older, cooler,” Aftab said. “They’re posing in their bras before they’re old enough to wear them. Now, when they’re passing the pictures from kid to kid afterwards, the kids that are passing them are being charged with child pornography.”
Because federal law doesn’t make any distinction about who creates the child porn, teens who take nude photos of themselves and child pornographers who abuse and exploit children can receive the same punishment.
That means that a child could spend up to five years in federal prison for simply possessing their own naked picture. Sending it out to others, however, can get a 15-year term.
Bryan Roussell, a detective in the Special Victims Unit of the Hollywood Police Department, has received many calls from parents who also don’t realize the consequences.
“[Parents] don’t understand that their daughter or their son is the one who started the crime by taking the picture of themselves and posting them on the Internet,” Roussell said.
“If a kid has a bunch of stored nude images [of minors] on his computer, he’ll be arrested for that and he’ll have to go through the judicial system like anybody else, whether he’s an adult or a child.”
Also, in many states, like Florida, if a person is convicted of a crime against children, it automatically registers him/her with the sex offender registry, a lifelong curse.
What really perturbs authorities and parents is why adolescents take these pictures. Therapist Ana M. Moreno, a licensed mental health counselor in Miami, believes self-esteem plays a role in these behaviors.
“The cases I have worked with that have engaged in this behavior are looking for outside validation. These teen girls feel that their sexuality makes them ‘popular’ and attracts attention,” Moreno said. “They may not feel good about their decision to share sexual pictures; however, if positive validation is received, they tend to feel content and sometimes elated with the feedback.”
Child pornography prosecutions skyrocketed in 2004, the same year as the creation of Facebook, creating a 650 percent increase from 1994.
“Those pictures are going to get out and you know how it is in school. Everyone will call these kids names. Now she becomes a ‘slut’ and she’s going to have to deal with that social issue,” Roussell said.
The trend is affecting people at all levels. Even celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudges have been caught in the act of “sexting” and sending nude photos to people in confidence.
Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, said the trend is not limited by gender.
“It’s not just teen girls,” she said, “but it’s also teen boys who are sending these images. When the images start to go viral, however, far more often, girls’ images go viral. It’s developmental, stupid behavior where nobody intended to harm anybody.
“One of the categories that ‘sexting’ falls under,” Willard said, “is when young people are trying to find a partner, trying to find someone to tell them things like ‘I love you, babe.’ Then the images end up getting posted to the Internet and they go viral.”
According to a survey Willard conducted, when minors were asked what they’d do if they were asked to send a nude picture, 94 percent of the group said “No way, never, goodbye.”
“The problem is that the hot, amazing junior boy is asking for nudes from the cute, little freshman girl, and all the while saying ‘everyone does it all the time, it’s a normal thing, I’d never send it to anyone, it’ll just be between you and me.’
Schools should begin surveying young people to show that freshman that, no, not everyone is sending nude pictures,” Willard said.
Everyone has a different mindset on where this trend will take society if it continues without fix.
“Learning about sexuality could start happening at a younger age,” Brandon Mercado, 16, said. “It could become popular and even become widely accepted.”
Many believe that since it’s a teen behavior problem, the duty of fixing it relies on the parents.
“Parents are encouraged to set rules and consequences,” Moreno, the therapist, said. “Every moment can be a teachable moment.”
Thursday, November 10, 2011
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