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School District Liability for Teen Sexting

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Today, photographs can be shared in an instant through mobile phones via the Internet. Unfortunately, this had led to a growth in “sexting.” Now ubiquitous, “sexting” is the act of sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. In fact, In August 2012, the word “sexting” was listed for the first time in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The phenomenon is particularly prevalent among teens, many of whom naively think it harmless. Sadly, though, “sexting” can have disastrous consequences. The images are sometimes shared with others, and can quickly circulate around a school. In fact, a 2012 study estimated that 88% of self-made explicit images are “stolen” from their original upload location, and made available on other websites, in particular porn sites collecting sexual images of children and young people. The report highlighted the risk of severe depression for those that lose control of their sexually explicit images and videos. There have been several high profile stories of young girls committing suicide after their sexually explicit images were shared. Parents should be aware their child’s school may be held liable for failing to curb the dissemination of “sexts” depicting their son or daughter.

Recently, a court in Ohio ruled that a school district might be liable for the suicide of a teenage girl who took her own life after other high school students “sexted” a nude picture of the girl around the school. After the girl’s suicide, her parents sued the school under Title IX. The parents alleged the school was deliberately indifferent to their daughter’s complaints about the “sexting.” Five principals and the school’s dean of students were allegedly aware of the harassment, but failed to try and stop it. This, the court said, could mean the school was liable under Title IX. This is a novel case, one of the first of it’s kind, but the court’s reasoning is readily applicable in other states. Title IX is a federal law, which means it applies to all schools that receive federal funds. This, by definition, includes all public schools in the United States. If your child was sexually abused or harassed at school, or was a victim of “sexting,” it is extremely important to consult with an experienced crime victim and sexual abuse attorney with experience bringing Title IX lawsuits. The sooner you consult with a lawyer, the better the chance your rights will be protected.

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