Witnesses Report ‘Sexting' Public Shaming in Riverside

It appeared cruel and ill-advised to many who saw the tearful young teen standing on a corner holding a vulgar and humiliating sign. Others thought it would teach the girl a harsh, but needed lesson in "sexting," or exchanging sexually explicit text messages and photos.

And, after a witness posted photographs on social media, the issue became grist for debate.

"I'm 13 I ask for d--- pics" read the hand-printed sign, using vulgar slang for male genitalia.

The girl held it for several hours in Riverside at the corner of Magnolia and La Sierra avenues, according to witness accounts.

"You could see tears running down her face," said Krista Wilson, who described being jolted when she saw a photo posted on Facebook in a public group focused on Riverside County events.

Wilson said she was moved to drive over to check on the girl, and found her still there and still holding the sign.

"Grown men were reading it and laughing," Wilson recalled with disgust.

Parked nearby was an SUV, a woman in the driver's seat watching the girl. Wilson, 22, presumed she was the mother, but decided against approaching her.

Another person who came upon the scene recalled hearing the girl speak toward the SUV.

"I saw her bawling her eyes out, just saying she didn't want to do this," said Kaceylynn Zambrano, 25.

"Public shaming should not be done," Wilson said.

Among the hundreds commenting online, not everyone agreed.

"To the people blaming the mother. If she did nothing and something happened to this girl, first thing y'all will say is where was her mother and what she should have did," commented Darwin Williams, Jr. in the thread on the Facebook public group called, "What's Really Going on in Riverside County." Others expressed the opinion the shaming would deter her from further "sexting."

Wilson and several others who thought such discipline verged on being criminal, called Riverside Police, and an officer responded. The officer spoke with the girl's mother at length, and concluded the mother's action did not constitute child abuse, according to Lt. Melissa Bartholomew.

The County Department of Public Social Services was also contacted, and Riverside police provided information, Lt. Bartholomew said.

DPSS has not yet responded to request for comment. It was Bartholomew's understanding that a social worker was contacting the mother with help on parenting strategies.

No one answered the door when NBC4 went to a location believed to be the family residence.

No question early adolescent "sexting" requires parental action, said Elizabeth Davis, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the Riverside campus of the University of California. It is risky and can quickly have enormous negative social impacts, she said.

However, research shows shaming is not only ineffective as a means of trying to change behavior, but also harmful, particularly for children and adolescents, according to Davis.

"The line between who they are and what they did is really blurred for teens," Davis said, likening shaming to "heaping self doubt on something already volatile."

It is important, Davis said, for parents to talk with their children, and try to determine what factors led to the inappropriate behavior.  In some cases, it may be bullying or other outside pressures  that need to be tackled.

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