Police warn of sexting dangers

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Monett sees about 15 cases per year

Monett police are looking to educate youth on the dangers of teenage sexting, a not entirely new problem brought on by greater technology access and a shift in cultural norms, according to Monett School Resource Officer Jay Jastal.

Jastal said he investigates about 15 cases of sexting per year, with each case involving as many as 20 or more students at times.

“It could be verbal or with pictures, and while there is no state statute against sexting, there are other statutes it could fit into, like pornography,” he said. “One of the problems we see here is kids sharing nude pictures, and that could be illegal, depending on the age of the subject or the type of picture.”

Jastal said the definition of pornography in state statues is vague, as obscenity is defined as material that, if taken as a whole, “Applying contemporary community standards, its predominant appeal is to prurient interest in sex; the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the material depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and a reasonable person would find the material lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

“What may be offensive here in southwest Missouri is possibly different from what may be offensive in other parts of the country,” Jastal said. “Pictures become a problem for a lot of reasons. Mainly, once they are out, you cannot get them back.”

Jastal said issues became more prevalent about 10 years ago, when cell phone cameras and texting began rapidly developing.

“Parents come to the school with complaints, and we do what we can to help,” he said. “Our goal is not necessarily to punish, but to show the dangers and educate kids on why sexting is wrong. We speak with the kids, ask them why, and the kids say, ‘Well, they asked [for a nude picture].’”

Jastal said the pictures themselves are not usually taken on school grounds, but taken at home. He said parents should be on the lookout for any signs of their children taking nude photos.

“Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust, then verify,’” Jastal said. “And if there is an issue, sit down and talk about it. The school brings in speakers and does education throughout the year, but the parents’ involvement is key.”

Jastal said a few years ago, there were 18 cases of sexting, and that’s when the department decided it needed to ramp up its education.

“The kids say that everyone does it and they don’t see the problem,” he said. “They have become desensitized because of what they see on TV and the internet, so sharing nude pictures is something they don’t see as a problem.

“We see it with kids as young as in intermediate school, like in fifth and sixth grades. They aren’t necessarily taking pictures of themselves or sending pictures, but they receive them or pass them on via text or social media accounts.”

Jastal said the juvenile office has seen a lot of child sex-related cases recently, and there are real-life dangers, as well as a danger to future goals and aspirations.

“Pictures that are shared could affect a student’s college application, and employers often check social media pages when hiring,” he said. “There could also be potential criminal charges. If a picture is deemed child pornography, a person could potentially have to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life.

“Online predators also could seek out kids if they see a picture online. It’s not common, but it is possible. The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force does local investigations, and the FBI calls about once a year because they’ve come across something with a local kid.”

Jastal said online predators generally pose as children themselves, get pictures, then ask for more and threaten to share the original pictures if their demands are not met.

“We’ve seen more and more of that, unfortunately,” Jastal said. “That’s why we are working hard to educate students and keep our kids safe. It also takes parents monitoring their individual children, because the school’s tech guys monitor school equipment, but the majority of sexting is done on personal devices.”

Jastal said if a case does turn criminal, the student’s phone is confiscated and turned in as evidence. The material is later destroyed, or the whole phone may be destroyed.

“I’ve sent cases to the juvenile office, but they are more about correction than punishment,” he said. “An ‘adult’ in Missouri is age 17, so even if it’s a boyfriend-girlfriend couple that’s ages 17 and 16, that could amount to a felony charge.

“My advice to students is — make good choices and don’t put yourself out there. The last thing you want when applying for colleges is a felony charge hanging over your head.”

Jastal said it’s easy as times for parents to forget the dangers of mobile devices with such a wide range of technology.

“A parent wouldn’t give a child a gun without teaching him how to shoot, or a car without training him how to drive,” Jastal said. “But, we put our kids at risk of being accessed by predators without even thinking about it.”

Anyone with questions about sexting may call Jastal at 417-235-4241.

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