HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Studies show more than one-in-four 14 to 24 year olds have been involved in some form of "sexting" - either sending or receiving sexually-explicit photos, videos, or text messages on-line or on cellphones. We didn't have to go far to find Hawaii teens who say they've been sexted a time or two.
Think sexting only happens to other peoples' kids?
"People have been sending me text messages, a picture of a guy's penis, and it's really, really disgusting," said high school senior, Kalaye Kawagoe-Aoki.
We didn't have to search long ...
"Yeah, there's a lot of creepers out there now," said 16 year old Sandy Bach.
… to find teens who've been "sexted".
"I had one sent to me, and I was like, 'Who's this?' It's really nasty," 16 year old Kiare Kawagoe-Aoki told us.
Just last week, the Hawaii Internet Crimes Against Children task force arrested a 45 year old man in Kaneohe for, not only sending explicit text messages to a 13 year old but making arrangements to meet her. Whether kids are receiving unsolicited sexts or sending them to friends, predators are just a key stroke away.
Cyber-safety experts say teens and tweens don't always understand that one suggestive photo sent to a friend could be forwarded to his friends ... and their friends ... and friends' friends and so on. And once it's out there, it's gone.
Hawaii Deputy Attorney General and task force member, Albert Cook, says, "At a minimum, it's going to be incredibly embarrassing if it gets out. There have been situations where children have committed suicide because pictures that they took of themselves have been sent school-wide. You know, and at a maximum, depending on how it happens, it could be a crime."
In Ohio, a high school student named Jessica Logan sent a nude photo to her boyfriend. After they broke up, that picture made the rounds on cellphones at school. She was harassed, called a slut and a whore, and soon after, 18 year old Jessica hanged herself in her bedroom. Authorities in Hawaii don't want to see that happen here.
"The message we're trying to send out is: don't do it. And if you do take it, don't send it. And just think before you post. Think before you take it," warns Cook.
Hawaii has no specific laws relating to "youth-produced" sexual images. We do have child pornography laws - aimed mostly at adult predators, but the task force is hoping state lawmakers will take a hard look at the growing sexting issue next session. A proposal was raised in the legislature this year, but it didn't end up going to hearing.
It can be difficult to keep on top of your child's texting because, let's face it, they can send and receive hundreds of texts a month. The Hawaii Attorney General's office says the majority of sexting cases are handled by parents or on the school level, so don't they get prosecuted much. But it's a growing problem that can ruin reputations, now and in the future.
Kids will send, receive, and forward sexts because of peer pressure, the need for acceptance, to show off, or to be funny. One 15 year old freshman didn't want to be identified because she was afraid her parents would make a big deal out of it and take her phone away if they found out boys she didn't know had sent her naked pictures.
"They would get my number out of nowhere and ask me to send them nude pictures. I refused to because I don't know these people, and I feel that they're going to find a way to come and get me and probably just kidnap me and I can get raped and everything," she explained. She said she made it a point to never walk alone.
All the experts we talked to say the number one thing parents can do is continue to emphasize the dangers of sending suggestive pictures and to make your child feel comfortable and safe enough to come to you, if they receive a sext. Right now, parents and educators are the first-line of defense, and authorities say nothing beats a good, old-fashioned, calm "sext" talk with your kids.
For cyber-safety tips for kids, teens, parents, and teachers, check out the Hawaii Internet Crimes Against Children task force website at http://hawaii.gov/ag/hicac/.