‘Sexting’ Could Land Kids In Trouble With The Law

SPOKANE — Spokane area teenagers are using their cell phones and computers to send risqué photos of themselves, and sometimes those x-rated images are landing in the wrong hands.

It’s called “sexting,” and it is the latest fad which could put your child at risk or possibly behind bars, as nude photos of anyone under the age of 18 are technically considered to be child pornography.

However, before parents start to worry about their teen getting prosecuted for child porn, they should first know that their “sexting” is making them a target for abuse.

It’s hard to imagine why any self respecting teen would bare it all on a cell phone photo, but one in five of our kids has already done it.

“It is a problem,” 16-year-old student Mikaila said. “It’s a big problem. People send sexy text messages more than people think they do.”

Some youngsters consider “sexting” a form of high tech flirting, but the intimate messages rarely stay private.

“I’m not gonna lie, there are so many people I know that have come to me saying, ‘oh I showed this to this person,’ and now everybody knows and I’m known as the school slut,”  Mikaila said.

In the Spokane School District, children as young as sixth graders have been caught “sexting” nude photos of themselves. It is something that is done as a lark, but can leave a long-lasting impact.

“Feelings are hurt, labels are placed on students that their pictures have been seen by others. It’s a real devastating experience,” said Dr. Wendy Bleecker of the Spokane School District.

While most “sexting” pictures are born of young love, other students have found covertly taken photos can socially cripple their enemies.                                                            

“I’m aware of a case when some kids took pictures of school mates in gym class, in the locker room, and then distribute them,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Detective Chuck Haley. “That’s not just child pornography, that’s harassment.”

Det. Haley specializes in sex crimes and he has picked up this dozen “sexting” cases since the beginning of the year.

He has several cell phones that were confiscated with images that meet the legal definition of child pornography, and because of the nature of the crimes, Det. Haley had to get a search warrant before he could view what’s inside. 

“In this particular case, a student took a picture of their genitalia with a cell phone, sent it to another student who was upset by what they saw, who in turn sent it to a third student, who turned it into a school resource officer, who gave it to me.” Det. Haley said about one of the phones in his possession.

With the help of a digital forensic specialist, Det. Haley is able to unlock the phones and make a copy of the photos and messages inside. This is now evidence of what could be a crime.

“Once you take the picture, you’re now guilty of possession. Then, when you send that text message out, then your guilty of distribution,” Deputy Cory Pritchard of the Spokane Sheriff’s Office said.

Prosecutors have not taken any teens to court yet, but only because the Spokane “sexting” cases have not been mean spirited or an attempt to make money.

“I don’t think the kids know that yet, that it’s really against the law. They just think that it’s going to be funny, and that it’s cool that they have naked pictures on their phone,” student Kyle Waterman said.

Teens say there are a couple of reasons “sexting’ has become so popular, and why girls are taking pictures of themselves.                                                                                         

“I think that it satisfies guys, because then they don’t actually have to give them sex because they show them what they would get from them, but by the time that all rolls around, they break up so they really don’t have to have sex with them, they just showed them,” Mikaila said.

Teens are showing themselves to even larger audiences on social networks.

“Just a recent as last month 90,000 registered sex offenders were taken off myspace, when it was determined they were out there, trolling around, looking for kids,” Det. Haley said.

Sex crimes experts warn “sexting” photos can make your child standout in a sea of cyber faces.

“Not only will they become a target, but escalated ‘sexting’ can occur, which may include stalking, luring and even possibly assault,” Deputy Pritchard said.

Mikaila said she believes this kind of activity is dangerous because it could lead to bigger crimes like rape. It is because of the possible escalation in crimes, that make detectives and educators say it’s time for parents to invade their kid’s privacy.

“Be a parent, look at their cell phone. Say ‘hey, I want to see your cell phone, I want to see the pictures that are on it, I want to see your text messages,'” Det. Haley said. “And, don’t warn them you’re going to do it, just walk in and say ‘I want to see it.'”

Educators and detectives agree that parents should be more vigilant in what their kids do on their cell phones.

“Parents need to take a look at their kids cell phones, what’s being sent, take a look at their face page, see what’s on line,”  Dr. Bleecker said.

If your son or daughter doesn’t want to voluntarily share their messages with you, there is a second option if you are the one who pays the bill.

Head to a store with your service provider, let them know that the phone is registered in your name, and the technicians there can unlock it for you to let you see what’s inside.