Judith Kahan




What we can learn from Anthony Weiner’s mistakes


Since the end of May, all we seem to hear about is Congressman Anthony Weiner and his sexting scandal. Now Congressman Weiner has stepped down, the consequences of his Internet activities ending a promising political career.

At the Center Against Domestic Violence we talk about sexting – not as a scandal, but to alert teens to a serious pitfall. Congressman Weiner might have benefitted from the Center’s Relationship Abuse Prevention Program or RAPP; through RAPP, tens of thousands of teens learn about self respect, respect for others, and how to build healthy relationships.

Here is what we tell RAPP teens about sexting –

It’s illegal: Teens have been convicted for child porn for emailing sexually explicit photos. If nude or sexually suggestive photos go to someone in another state, it’s a federal felony.

There are other consequences: Photos stay online for pretty much forever where other people can find them. There’s emotional and reputation damage from an ex-friend sending your intimate photos it to everyone you know.

Why do it: Sometimes it’s impulsive behavior, flirting, blackmail, peer pressure in a form of cyberbullying or pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s always a bad idea.

The bottom line: People aren’t always who they seem to be. Stay alert when using digital media. Critical thinking about what we upload and download is the best protection.

Here is what we tell parents about teen sexting –

Talk with your children about sexting. Ask them what they know about it and let them know your values. An open dialog will help teens understand and avoid the legal, social and reputation risks of sexting.

When a politician or a sports figure gets “caught”; it’s an opportunity to talk about relationships: in this case how technology impacts our emotional health and the difference – if any – between real world infidelity and virtual infidelity. We need to listen, to ask and answer questions and to teach our children the principles of self respect and respect for others that form the foundations of healthy relationships.

Congressman Weiner may not have broken any laws by texting lewd photos to younger women he didn’t know, but in many states, teens who do the same thing are prosecuted for child pornography and are listed as sex offenders for life.
In June, New York State proposed the “Cyber Crime Youth Rescue Act” — which, if passed, would create a “educational reform program” to teach teens about the dangers of sexting. The program would teach children the potential legal consequences for sharing sexually suggestive or explicit images. And it would lay out the impact that such graphic materials could have on their relationships and career. And it would also stress to them “the nearly unlimited ability of an infinite audience to utilize the Internet search for and replicate materials.” More than a dozen other statehouses have introduced or passed statutes giving prosecutors more leeway in handling “sexting” cases and distinguishing such offenses from child pornography and sexual-predator crimes that come with more serious and lasting punishments.
The Center is dedicated to cultivating a society free of abuse. We drive cultural change through education and intervention. The Center’s groundbreaking programs – like RAPP – teach young people to identify and avoid abuse and develop healthy relationships. The Cyber Crime Youth Rescue Act is a step in the right direction.