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Sexting warning goes out to area teens

Sending a naked picture to a teenage boyfriend could end with prison term.

“When you talk to kids they don’t know it’s an issue,” said Detective Seth Graves of the Emmett Township Department of Public Safety. “If you are under 18 you can’t take nude images and send them because you are creating child pornography and disseminating child pornography.”

Sexting, which is sending explicit photographs or videos or texts, usually by mobile phones, is a recurring problem, Graves said Wednesday and young people don’t realize that sending or receiving them can ruin their lives.

Making, sending, receiving, soliciting or possession of naked pictures of people under 18 is considered child pornography, Graves said and could mean criminal prosecution.

Four middle school students in Cedar Springs, north of Grand Rapids, were suspended after engaging in sexting, it was reported this week.

Graves had a pair of DVDs on his desk with photographs which are part of two ongoing investigations. He said the department has had numerous cases in recent months. No one has yet been charged, he said.

Battle Creek Detective Lt. Jim Martens said his department recently investigated one complaint but found no criminal activity and Capt. Steve Eddy of the Calhoun County Sheriff Department said his officers have not had any recent sexting complaints.

But Graves said his department has seen enough of a problem to caution teenagers about the consequences.

“In Michigan you can have sex at 16 but you can’t take photographs,” Graves said. “Do you want to throw away your life for something as stupid as taking a nude picture and sending it?”

Officer Lonnie McGlothen, the school liaison officer at Harper Creek Community Schools said he does discuss the consequences of sexting with students.

“We have talked to the kids in the classroom and tried to help them understand,” he said. “We explain it to them and the consequences and they don’t want to accept it. They all say ‘it won’t happen to me.’”

Graves said the predominant issue is boys asking girls to send nude pictures, although boys also are sending them and some teens are sending them to people they meet in internet chat rooms. And he said the girls seem to think the pictures won’t be seen by anyone else.

“I try to tell them, ‘But what happens in two weeks when you break up with him?’ They do it with the intent that they won’t break up.”

Graves said police often learn of the incidents after the pictures begin to circulate among other teens and then a parent, school official or other adult learns about it and reports it.

He said some phone applications like Snapchat are believed safe by some teens because pictures sent to another phone are designed to disappear within 10 seconds. But Graves said those photographs can be captured and saved.

Because cell phones with cameras are so popular and easy to use, Graves said he doesn’t believe young people realize how serious sending pictures can be when the law is applied.

“Kids don’t see the big picture and they think it might just be embarrassing, but they don’t understand how significant it can be on the rest of their lives if they are convicted of a felony. And in those cases I can’t come and just talk to your mom and dad, I come and take you to jail.”

Graves urged parents to check cell phones of their children and to reject promises from children that they won’t ever engage in sexting.

“Parents can be as unaware of the problem,” he said.

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