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SEXTING: Legal woes could include child pornography charges - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

SEXTING: Legal woes could include child pornography charges

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SHREVEPORT - BOSSIER CITY, La. (KTBS) -

Sexting - a light-hearted term coined for what could be a very serious problem among teens.

In fact, local authorities and school officials are taking a pro-active approach to addressing the issue with area students.

That's because sexting involving underage kids could mean jail time.

"It wasn't that many years ago when cell phones didn't exist and nowadays, every high schooler, every middle schooler has a cell phone," says Lt. Bruce Bletz, a detective with the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Dept.

So what exactly is sexting?

Louisiana defined it in 2010 as "sending suggestive photos by e-mail, computer, or other electronic means."

That's also when the state made it illegal among minors, determining that "no person under the age of 17 years shall knowingly and voluntarily use a computer or telecommunication device to transmit an indecent visual depiction of himself to another person."

Lt. Bruce Bletz, a detective with the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office, is part of the effort to educate children about the legal dangers of sexting.

"Anyone 17 years or older, who sends a sexually graphic or inappropriate message to somebody younger, with an age difference of greater than 2 years, could potentially be in violation of indecent behavior with a juvenile," Bletz says.

Additionally, Bletz says anyone 17 or older who's in possession of a sexually graphic image of a someone younger than 17, is also in possession of child pornography.

Depending on the circumstance, that could get a teen labeled as a sex offender.

Shocking terms to throw around, but Caddo District Judge Scott Crichton says kids and parents are in need of a wake-up call.

"This is an issue and a problem in every single middle school in our country."

That's right - middle school.

10, 11, and 12-year-olds sexting - the prevalence is high enough that Judge Crichton gives presentations regularly on the consequences, particularly the legal ones.

He recently visited Benton Middle School in Bossier Parish.

"What we need to do is we need to educate our children that sexting is a crime, punishable by jail or a fine, and by seizure of the electronic equipment."

But snapping and sending the pic is just the beginning of potential legal woes.

Crichton's presentation includes a section on what many consider to be most damaging fall-out from sexting - cyberbullying.

"These kids don't necessarily know about any of the consequences."

Also a crime, cyberbullying is defined under Louisiana law as "the transmission of any electronic textual, visual, written, or oral communication with the malicious and willful intent to coerce, abuse, torment, or intimidate a person under the age of 18."

"I just watch faces. I can tell over the years by looking at somebody's face if something is wrong."

Wallace Martin has nearly seen it all in his 44 years in law enforcement with the Shreveport Police Dept., and 16 years as school resource officer in Bossier Parish.

He says, though the act of sexting usually happens at home, the torment of a child who made the wrong choice often makes it way through the halls of the school.

"At the middle school age, they're very impressionable kids and they can be changed very easily."

It's for that very reason, Crichton says he won't stop working to educate children about the perils of sexting.

"They're young and they're thinking with young brains, and they're not thinking in advance regarding any possible consequences."

And parents aren't off the hook when it comes to their legal responsibility in the realm of sexting.

Under Louisiana Civil Code, "the mother and father are responsible for damage caused by their minor child."

Though technology may seem over their heads, there are simple "rules of the road" for parents to monitor their child's activity.

First and foremost - talk to your children. Let them know what sites are acceptable to visit, and what aren't.

Be pro-active and check their cell phones to see what apps your child has downloaded, and who they're texting.

Set up your computer in a central location in your home so internet use can be supervised.

Create a family agreement for Internet use that includes items such as hours of use, what sites can be accessed, and what sites are off-limits.

Tell your children that if someone they are talking to online harasses, bullies, or makes them uncomfortable in any way, they should talk to a parent, teacher, or an adult they trust.

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