In this blog series, we are examining the impact of technology on violence against women crimes, as identified by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) Safety Net Project. In the coming weeks, the IACP Violence Against Women team will focus on Email and Online Evidence Collection, Posting Content Online, and Spyware and Safety. Our most recent post focused on Identifying Laws to Charge Perpetrators Who Misuse Technology, and today’s post will highlight sexting.
Sexting is the act of sending or receiving sexually suggestive or explicit messages or images (video/photo) via electronic communication. Messages can be sent via text messages, email, instant messages, and/or online posts on devices such as mobile phones, computers, or cameras and can be shared on social networking sites, photo- and video‐sharing sites, blogs, virtual worlds, and illegal or legal pornography trading sites.
When perpetrators misuse sexually suggestive or explicit messages or images to coerce, abuse, threaten, intimidate, or insight fear, it can have an immediate and significant impact on a victim’s life. Many sexting victims are revictimized in their school, workplace, or community. As a result of the humiliation experienced after perpetrators took and/or distributed images of the victim, some victims have even attempted or committed suicide.
- Context. The most important thing about sexting is that it’s about context. People send sexts for different reasons. Some send sexually explicit messages because they are in a relationship with the other person; some send them because they are coerced into doing so. Understanding the context will help identify high-risk situations where the victim is being abused, assaulted, or groomed.
- Intention of the offender. Sexting is most dangerous and harmful when victims are being blackmailed, threatened, and/or coerced or when the images are shared by the offender without the consent of the person in the image/video.
- Laws. Some jurisdiction have laws specific to sending, receiving, storing, or sharing explicit images. It is important that victims understand how these laws may or may not protect them. For example, in some jurisdictions, minors who share an intimate photo (consensually or through coercion) may be held liable for producing and distributing child pornography. In other jurisdictions, some laws may hold offenders accountable for sharing intimate pictures without the consent of the victim.
- Age. Sexting is not just a phenomenon with young people. People of all ages share explicit messages. Competent and age‐specific education can address the potential consequences of sexting, promote healthy sexuality, and minimize and prevent future victimization.
Investigation & Evidence
- If possible, the victim should keep copies of messages and the digital images. Take screenshots (on the phone or on the computer) in case they disappear.
- Law enforcement can ensure proper preservation and evidence collection of texts, emails, and posts on wireless carriers, social networking, or other websites by working with phone and Internet service providers to ensure speedy evidence collection and responses.
- Many Internet- and communication-based companies have developed guides to assist law enforcement in understanding what information is available and how that information may be obtained. Links to law enforcement investigation guides are available through the IACP Center’s for Social Media.
For more information on sexting, check out NNEDV’s sexting fact sheet, and for information on images, consent, and abuse, visit the Tech Safety resource page. You can also contact the NNEDV’s Safety Net Project by clicking here. Be sure to visit their Tech Safety blog for additional information on technology safety.
If you have questions about the IACP’s Violence Against Women efforts, please contact Michael Rizzo, IACP Project Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the IACP’s National Law Enforcement Leadership Initiative on Violence Against Women webpage.