Over 100 underage girls are in hot water with Virginia authorities and, no doubt with their parents as well, for their involvement in a widespread sexting ring on the social media site Instagram. With the advent of texting capabilities by teens, pre-teens and even adults, sexting, which is the sharing of naked or otherwise sexually explicit photos by cellphone, has become increasingly prevalent. This despite the potential negative ramifications of sharing such personal information in a public venue.
The girls in question, ages 14-17 and from middle schools and high schools across six Virginia counties posted thousands of explicit photos and some videos on the Instagram page. Instagram, which is a popular site for the younger generation allows for the uploading and editing of media content to share publicly or with followers.
According to Chief Deputy of the Louis County Sheriff’s Office, Major Donald A. Lowe while the majority of the images were sexually explicit, some of them fell into the category of “provocative” or “inappropriate” as the girls were partially clothed in their underwear. After the ring was exposed, police initiated an in-depth investigation into the scandal. During the course of the investigation, authorities have seized more than two dozen personal cellphones in an attempt to determine who originally created the Instagram page and who was sexting the photos to other cellphone users.
The explicit activity was originally discovered by a vigilant mother who noticed that her daughter’s Instagram account contained some very “suspicious activity.” According to one student at Louis County High School, the explicit Instagram page was created by some “guys” who then encouraged gullible girls to post naked “selfies” on the page. In order to see the full page, users had to post a photo of themselves, which then provided them a link to the page with full content. In all, there were over 1,000 explicit photos posted to the sexting ring page and with the cooperation of Instagram, the account has been completely removed from any public access by the sheriff’s office.
Although it would seem that these girls might have been victimized by the organizers of the page, the Virginia police have determined that it appears that the postings were consensual. One parent, Lori Lyons commented on the scandal, remarking that she has always advised her daughter never to post explicit content “no matter who asks” her to. Lyons hopes that the exposure of the sexting ring will serve as a learning tool for young people and remind them of “how dangerous it is” to post such content and how the information can get into “the wrong people’s hands.”
Deputy Lowe does not think that the over 100 underage girls involved in the sexting ring in Virginia will be prosecuted and he is more interested in saving teens “from themselves.” He recommends that anyone who receives unsolicited images to their cellphone should delete them immediately. Further, while he understands that no one wants to be a “snitch” especially in a younger peer group, these underage girls should realize that by reporting sexting they are actually “protecting” the person in the image.
While it may seem shocking that over 100 underage girls in Virginia alone were involved in the sexting ring on Instagram it is likely that the prevalence of sexting is widespread across the nation and other similar rings will be discovered. Parents are the first line of defense and, like the vigilant mother in this case, might want to take a closer look at their children’s Instagram and other social media accounts in addition to monitoring texting behavior.
By Alana Marie Burke
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