The social and legal consequences of improper use of camera phones was the subject of a talk Feb. 28 by Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias.
Dobias said the topic of sexting is very current. A lot of issues come up in that connection in the criminal justice system, but the solution in many cases is to "delete."
His job is prosecutor throughout the county. The most common case to come before the courts is for drunk driving at 30 percent, but with advances in technology cyber-type crimes are edging up.
He said sexting is a combination of sex and texting - sending pictures over a computer or cell phone of a person or people engaged in inappropriate activities or with nudity.
Commonly it is a means of showing off if a person wants someone to be interested in him or her. "It is referred to as the new flirting," said Dobias.
But it can have long-range consequences such as affecting the possibility of getting a job or possibly even acceptance at a college.
His goal in speaking was to give young people a better sense of what is important.
Sex can be found everywhere now - on television, computers and in the movies. The message given is that media says a person has to "show skin to win."
The law wants to make sure people know they may be putting themselves in an embarrassing situation because after an image is sent the sender loses control of it. The photo may be sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend, but when the relationship changes it can be forwarded to hundreds or thousands of people since the image remains in cyberspace.
This is the main social problem bringing with it a lot of embarrassment.
It becomes the concern of the police when there are criminal consequences by which the senders and possibly the receivers can be charged with a crime.
If a photo is sent to a minor or knowingly received that shows a prohibited act or nudity, it becomes a felony.
If an adult displays images of a minor, a criminal complaint can be filed and the information can appear in a newspaper. It is considered sexual abuse of children and is heard in a magistrate's office, which is an open public forum. If the person is found or pleads guilty, it can again be listed on the media. A conviction goes on the person's criminal record. It can turn up on job applications and the person's name may be registered on Megan's Law. Finally, the person can go to jail.
Between minors, the consequences are similar. A juvenile petition is filed charging a similar crime. The person can be adjudicated delinquent with the sentence being probation, counseling or out-of-home placement. It will be on the record when the person applies for a job and it may require Megan's Law registration.
"Some things children do can follow them all their life," said Dobias.
Excuses he has heard include "I took it just for my boyfriend (or girlfriend)," "I told my boyfriend (or girlfriend) not to send it to anyone else," and "I thought it would be funny."
Adults have to be aware of these types of things and guide youth to make appropriate choices. They have to make their children aware of what is private, what is public and what is appropriate, he said.
Dobias offered some statistics. Twenty-two percent of girls have made nude pictures of themselves and 20 percent of boys. "They think sexting makes dating more likely."
Fifteen percent of teens have sent inappropriate photos to people whom they only know online. Twenty-five percent say it is no big deal - so they have to realize the consequences.
"Don't take photos of yourself you wouldn't want your parents or grandparents to see. Don' t let anyone talk you into it. As soon as a photo is sent you lose control. There is no retrieving it. If someone sends a photo, delete it," Dobias said.
It is important to talk to young people about the legalities. Remind them a photo can never be retrieved. Ask them how they would feel if parents, teachers or the entire school saw it.
Adults can and should review a child's computer or cell phone. "The buck stops with the parents. Be part of the solution, not the problem," Dobias said. "Be engaged in kids' lives."
Dobias was asked if deleting was enough or if it should be reported to authorities. He said only in serious cases where there may be a criminal investigation should it be reported. "I say delete and do not have it on the computer or phone."
"If you wouldn't want something on the front page of the paper, don't send it," Dobias concluded.