Prosecutors warn teens about perils of sexting - KCTV5

Prosecutors warn teens about perils of sexting

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Sexting and photosharing are increasingly popular but dangerous activities for children.

And it's not just limited to teens. Area police say they are seeing cases involving children as young as 7, 8 and 9 years old.

Provocative photos sent among children can leave prosecutors deciding whether to file charges or not. And that could result in becoming a registered sex offender.

"It's called sexual exploitation of a child if you send it by phone or computer," said Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.

Sexually explicit and nude photos are being snapped and sent more and more.

"High school, middle school, elementary school. If a kid's got the technology to use it to create nudes and share nudes, they are," Overland Park police Detective Marcus Fizer explained.

Most cyber crime detectives like Fizer spend a great deal of their time handling these type of cases.

"I've been working a case this morning involving picture sharing," Fizer explained.

The photos have become almost as common as the notes that older generations passed in study halls. Most children have access to the technology. Smartphones, iPads, notebooks and webcams enable children to take sexually explicit images and share them without realizing that consequences once they hit send.

"If you have two minors exchanging that information, it's still a felony offense under the current definition of Kansas law, so that it's still a person felony, mandatory registration as a sex offender and a sentence from three to 10 years," Howe said.

The district attorney says the sharing of nude phones is one of the most underreported crimes committed. Aside from a parent coming across the explicit photo on their child's phone, it doesn't usually make it to his office until young love takes a turn for the worse.

"We have seen more instances where a breakup goes bad and then it is published to the entire world to see and those are pretty damaging to the victims," Howe said.

So damaging that 18-year-old Jessica Logan from Ohio and 13-year-old Hope Witsell of Florida each committed suicide shortly after nude photos sent to a boyfriend were widely distributed to classmates.

"Unfortunately teenagers don't always think clearly. I think it's the scary of today's society ... that they have so much control to distribute that type of information, where in the past we didn't have that," Howe said.

Kansas law allows serious felony charges every time a nude photo is distributed, Howe said. But he said his office uses discretion.

Prosecutors don't want to pursue felony charges against a teen and have that teen labeled a sex offender for the rest of his or her life because of a poor decision in their youth.

But Howe said charges will be filed when photo sharing turns into harassment or bullying.

Howe emphasized that parents must follow up on their technology they provide their children.

"Kids aren't stupid, and if you tell them, 'I'm gonna check' and even if you just check a couple times, guess what? That is enough for them to say, 'Well I need to be careful about what I use this phone for because I know my parents would follow up on that,'" Howe said.

All too often not knowing is the problem. Sarah Boatright with the Sunflower House helps educate parents and children about the dangers in the digital age.

"Generally they are saying, 'I never knew what all my child was involved in. I didn't know,'" she said.

In Missouri, prosecutors tell us they take a similar approach and try to avoid filing more serious charges depending on the circumstance of the case.

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