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Should Schools Warn Students About Risks Of ‘Sexting’?

State Representative Maurice West (D-Rockford)
Dusty Rhodes
/
NPR Illinois
State Representative Maurice West (D-Rockford)

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether sex education teachers should have to warn students about the consequences of “sexting” — sharing or forwarding sexually explicit videos, pictures, and text messages.

After a recent visit to the private Rockford Lutheran School, state Rep. Maurice West, a Democrat from Rockford, said he learned the majority of disciplinary cases for high school students there was for sharing sexually explicit messages and media.

“As I talked to the children they said the only type of conversation they have in school about sex education is what is an STD, and what does it mean to have sex,” West said.

State Representative Maurice West (D-Rockford)
Credit Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois
/
NPR Illinois
State Representative Maurice West (D-Rockford)

West said minors can face major consequences for sexting. They can be charged with child pornography, and might have to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives.

West cited studies that found between 2009 and 2016, 15% of people aged 12-17 sent sexts, 27% received sexts, and 12% forwarded them without consent. West and other lawmakers attribute the rise of sexting to the use of smartphones and other digital communication devices. The legislation would require information about sexting for students in grades 6 through 12.

It would also mandate instruction on internet safety, as predators and human traffickers use sexting to lure, groom and exploit children.

“Our children know a lot more about smartphones than we do,” West said. “It’s time for us to acknowledge that, and have conversations with them so they won’t mess up their lives legally, socially, and academically.”

Unlike the curriculum on internet safety and bullying, the legislation would not create specific guidelines on the content of anti-sexting instruction. Teachers would be allowed to develop their own lessons.

His legislation would only apply to schools that already have sexual education classes, and parents would still have the right to keep their children out.

The legislation is House Bill 4007.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Olivia Mitchell is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.