ARCANUM — During the day on Monday, Arcanum High School hosted sessions throughout the day for students to learn about the dangers of sexting. That evening, parents were invited to the school for their own program.
“As a high school principal, this is the thing I wake up most scared of every day,” Jason Stephan, Arcanum-Butler High School principal, told the parents.
Presenting the program were Detective Sgt. David Hawes, of the Darke County Sheriff’s Office, and Assistant Prosecutor Margaret Hayes, from the Darke County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
For the purposes of the program, sexting was defined as the transmission or retention of nude photos, specifically, but Hawes pointed out that Ohio law does not have a specific definition for sexting. And while the exchange of nude photographs of themselves among consenting adults is not against the law, any involvement of a minor — sending, receiving, forwarding or possessing — is illegal.
“Nothing makes it OK,” Hawes said.
Hawes said once law enforcement has been called in — usually on a complaint from a parent who has found the offensive photos on their child’s phone — charges will be filed.
Charges can range from unruly juvenile charges to possession and distribution of child pornography.
Hayes said her office considers each case and each person involved individually, but usually she files unruly juvenile charges rather than felony charges.
“I have to file charges against the victim, too,” Hayes said, if that person was a knowing participant. Taking a nude photo of oneself as a minor and sending it to someone else is a violation of the law.
In considering the cases, Hayes said she tries to avoid felony charges because those come not only with a presumption of prison time, but they can also mean lifelong registration as a sex offender. However, every prosecutor’s office has its own discretion on how these cases are handled.
Hawes pointed out that anyone involved who takes, sends, receives and keeps, or shows the photos has committed a criminal act.
Beyond the criminal consequences of sexting, the presenters tried to stress the lasting impact that sexting has on a person’s life.
He told the story of a girl who sent nude photos to her boyfriend. He did not distribute them, but he kept them on his phone. When the couple broke up and he began dating someone else, his new girlfriend got into his phone and sent the photo to her more than 4,000 Facebook friends as well as her phone contacts.
That case occurred several years ago, Hawes said, but it has reemerged on multiple occasions since then, as the photos resurface.
“Once you hit send, it’s gone. You can’t get it back. You don’t know who possesses it,” Hawes said.
Adolescents have become desensitized to sexuality, Hayes said. “They don’t think about how that’s going to affect them later on.”
Sexting can jeopardized future employment and college prospects. It can cause future relationship problems. It can lead to mental health issues and suicide. And of course, it can cause legal problems.
Hawes stressed the importance of parents actively parenting their children.
“Check their phones,” Hawes said. “It’s not an invasion of privacy. It’s your job.”
Parents were told of various phone applications to watch for, such as Snapchat and Tinder, as well as photo vault apps that are “hidden” behind icons of something else.
“If you see goofy calculators, they’re not doing extra math,” Stephan said.
Hayes said she told the students, “Please don’t take pictures of yourself. I don’t want girls’ lives ruined. I don’t want boys labeled sex offenders.” Hawes said the Adam Walsh Act requires that juveniles convicted of a sex crime are registered as sex offenders, the same as adults.