Recent Sexting Cases Should Bring Change

As cellphones have evolved, the law has not evolved with them.

Among the issues state legislatures have struggled with is sexting, the sending of inappropriate texts between cellphones.

Most sexting laws apply only to minors under the legal reasoning that the teens are dealing in child pornography, one of the only sets of existing laws on the books that could deal with transmission of such images. Cases in which teen sexting has been made public have resulted in emotional damage to teens and, in some cases, suicide – resulting in most teen sexting to be handled with education about the ramifications of sexting and through diversionary programs instead of criminal court. Because adults are of a consenting age, there are few laws on the books to deal with adults.

That should change in the case of teachers and students sending inappropriate texts.

Twice in the last week, Western New York teachers have been in the news for sending and receiving sexts from students.

On Jan. 20, Shane Riethmiller, 40, of Dunkirk and a teacher at Salamanca Central School, was sentenced to six months in jail, five years of probation and has surrendered his teaching license as part of his guilty plea after sending and receiving inappropriate texts from a teen girl over three months in 2011. On Jan. 20, Gerald Wild, a former social studies teacher at the Alden School District near Buffalo, pleaded guilty to one count of endangering the welfare of a child for sexting a 16-year-old girl. He faces up to a year in jail when he is sentenced.

Compare Riethmiller’s punishment with that of Kevin DeFrancesco, a 29-year-old Pennsylvania teacher who was sentenced to between 27 months and eight years in prison on charges of sexual abuse of children, unlawful contact with a minor and attempt to commit sexual abuse of children after sending sexually explicit text messages to two students. He will also have to register for life as a sex offender.

It’s not too much to expect that adults, especially teachers, should be held to a higher standard. New York lawmakers should craft legislation that makes teachers think twice about carrying on inappropriately with students. State law should reflect the public trust placed in school teachers and punish more harshly teachers who send inappropriate texts to students.