Sexting Trauma – Read this Month’s Redbook Article

October 24, 2011

A new article  by Sandy M. Fernández for Redbook provides excellent insight into a sexting incident’s long-term impact on a young girl. Covering a three year time period, the article delves into the life of a young girl who felt pressured into sexting, and the emotional, legal, and educational aftermath.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the article:

Sexting Trauma: “I Was Naked Out in the World”

“Can I have a video?”

When the message flashed on then-13-year-old Taylor Sullivan’s* cell-phone screen late on a Saturday night in February 2009, she didn’t understand the question. It was midnight, and Taylor…. was in her pajamas, watching That’s So Raven and texting a boy from school, a class clown type who, she hoped, “might want to be my boyfriend.” She’d never dated anyone before.

“Video of what?” she typed. Everyone else in the house had gone to bed. But Taylor — kept awake by the pinging messages — had come back to the living room.

“You stripping,” came the answer.

Taylor’s immediate response was “No, no way.” …. Taylor had friends who’d sent some, … She had even tested out a couple shots herself. She knew the risks: Guys rarely kept these to themselves. Still, she liked this boy. And he swore it would be just between the two of them. “I didn’t know what to do,” Taylor says. “So I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I don’t feel good about this.’ And he’d be like, ‘Please?'”

It’s two years later, and we’re sitting on the back porch….. read more on

It’s a thoughtful article that should be read not only by every parent but by every teen as it helps take a topic that is often discussed very 2-dimentionally and brings forward the complexities of dealing with the aftermath as the sender/victim, among friends, at school, and at home.   I am honored to have been interviewed for this article, and help drive greater awareness of the issues rather than the sensationalism that frequently accompanies these stories.

What’s missing from the article are suggestions for how to help your child build up defenses so they don’t feel pressured to send sexual images or video, what to do  if they already have sent images of themselves to others, and how you as a parent need to support your child through this kind of event. To learn more about these aspects of dealing with sexting see my blogs:



Immigration Official Arrested for Child Pornography

October 5, 2011

The Department of Justice has announced the arrest Anthony Mangione, of the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for South Florida, on child pornography charges, proving once again that the stereotype of the creepy trench coated stranger is no measure of perversion.

Charged in a three-count indictment for transportation of child pornography, receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography, Mangione, a 27-year law enforcement veteran, will face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

What makes this case particularly sickening is that ICE has a specific mandate to target and investigate child pornographers, child sex tourists, and human traffickers, and the agency holds one of the most comprehensive databases of child pornography on the planet. As head of the department Mangione presumably had access to everything in that database.

Protect your child from sexual exploitation in both physical and digital forms

  1.  Talk, Talk, Talkto your children about appropriate and inappropriate conversations, pictures and touching. Start when kids are young, talk frequently, and make the conversation’s focus practical, not scary.
    1. Keep your perspective. Yes, there are sexual predators online, and yes they are trawling for targets, but they are not stalking every child every moment of the day or night. Only a fraction of youth will experience full blown solicitation, but all children should be forearmed.
    2. Warning kids about ‘creepy strangers’ is off target. Predators look like anyone else.
    3. Instead of saying don’t let strangers talk to you about, or touch you… (which implies it’s ok if others do), say no one – not mommy, not daddy, not brother, not uncle, not family friend, no one – is allowed to make you feel uncomfortable, talk to you about your body,  touch you in private places, or take photos of you undressed or barely dressed.
  2. Leverage Family Safety Tools, and do your own checking in.Depending on the age and maturity of your child/teen, use family safety settings and tools (also called parental controls) that are transparent (so your child knows what’s being monitored) that can help detect potentially at-risk communications.
    1. Though Facebook is the most popular social networking site, it isn’t the best site for young teens – and it does not allow access for users under 13.
    2. Instead use one of the social networking sites that was actually designed with safety as a core principle from the ground up. You want a site that uses moderators and screening as these vastly decrease the likelihood that your child will be solicited by a predator – whether that be a sexual predator, an emotional predator, a physical predator, or a reputational predator.
    3. Help tweens and teens understand that sending a sexual image of themselves to someone else can have far reaching consequences. There is a whole segment of the population beyond their boy/girlfriend who is very interested in seeing these pictures, touching the pictures, kissing the pictures, and masturbating to the pictures. Should their photo fall into the hands of a person interested in child pornography, it is likely to be traded and shared my thousands of times.
  3. Listen, Listen, Listen to your children. Your kids won’t tell you about risks if you aren’t listening and being thoughtful.
    1. If you have a history of freaking out, taking away their internet access, etc. when they come to you about something, then you’ve taught them not to come to you. This increases their vulnerability as the very people they should be able to turn to have made themselves unusable.
    2. Build trust that you will be calm, listen, and find the right solution no matter what they bring to you.
  4. It is never the victim’s fault.  God-forbid that any child should be abused, but statistics say a percentage of kids will experience sexual exploitation instigated either online, or offline. It is never their fault. As with all sexual crimes, there is only one person at fault— the predator.
    1. Sexual acts with minors are illegal and exploitive, and as a society, everyone must be committed to protecting minors, even when they act against their own best interests. Yes, they might have done things that put them at greater risk, but they are the victim, not the abuser.
    2. Understand that sexual predators frequently try to make a child believe that the abuse was the child’s fault or something they wanted because if the child feels guilty or ashamed they will be much less likely to report it. Predators may say, “You wouldn’t have contacted me if you didn’t want it,” or “I only did this because I thought it was what you wanted.”
    3. If a parent or authority figure says to an abused child or teen something like “What were you thinking?” or “What was your part in this?” the child or teen may see that as siding with the predator. If the adult in any way reinforces the predator’s message of guilt, they remove the last shreds of hope from the child that they will be believed, nurtured, and protected by those they need support from the most.

 For more information on how to protect kids and teens from online exploitation see my instructions for Protecting Kids.

If you believe a child is being abused, or know an child abuser, don’t hesitate. Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline 1-800-THE-LOST, use their website’s reporting tool or call your local law enforcement agency.